The theory of flashbulb memories explains the way emotion influences memory. Brown and Kulik (1977) first proposed this theory. Flashbulb memory is a vivid, detailed and emotional memory that forms after an emotionally intense event. These memories, which are like pictures in the mind, are recorded. The Flashbulb Memory Theory is unique in that it has certain features. The memories are vivid, consistent, lasting longer, and easier to remember. Normal memories are selective, unreliable and can be easily distorted.
Some events are more memorable than others. The person is in a high-emotional state when the event occurs, whether extreme happiness or sadness. The high emotion is what makes the event stick in your memory. Either personal events or world-wide events can cause a lasting impression. As an example, the assassination or death of Princess Diana would have occurred in 1997. Their study was designed to examine flashbulb memory and determine its workings. The experiment involved 80 American participants. The experiment consisted of 80 Americans. Participants were asked to respond to 10 questions about various events. Nine out of 10 events involved the assassination (or attempted) of famous American public figures. The final event was an event chosen by each participant. It must have involved “self shock”. Then, the participants were asked how often they thought about this event.
The results showed that 90% participants could recall the events surrounding J.F. Assassination of Kennedy in 1963. African Americans remembered more assassinations such as those of Martin Luther King than did Caucasian Americans. Participants recalled shocking memories such as the deaths of parents for the 10th event.
The study confirmed Brown and Kulik (1977) theories about flashbulb memories. This study showed that flashbulb memories are formed when we are exposed to unexpected and emotionally charged information. Flashbulb Memory can be maintained by both covert and overt rehearsal. Flashbulb memories are created using a specialized neuronal mechanism. This neural memory system permanently stores the information.
The flashbulb theory has the advantage that it is based on real-life events and the reactions and memories of people. These studies have a high ecological validity. This theory has a weakness in that the studies cannot be replicated. The results cannot be compared. The emotions can also influence flashbulb memory, because through practice the memory becomes enhanced or suppressed.