Sunday, April 11, 2010

For those with a personal stake, flashbulb memories burn bright

A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that memories that people have of historical events are far more accurate when the people were personally affiliated with the event. The study tested Danes with ties to the World War II Danish resistance movement.

Many studies of flashbulb memories show them to be unreliable, but the memories of most of the the participants in this study were surprisingly accurate. Studies have also shown that when it comes to flashbulb memories, memory distorts emotions, personal involvement, and external details over time.

The lead researcher, Dorthe Berntsen wanted to see if having a personal stake would boost flashbulb memory accuracy. She had 145 Danes, ages 72 to 89, including 66 who had ties to the resistance movement, fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire asked for detailed descriptions of their memories of four different war-related events, their most positive personal memory, and their most negative personal memory.

Danes who had lived through World War II performed five times better than the control group in recalling the events. Berntsen found that the participants still made mistakes, but their memories were much for accurate than expected.

In class we talked about how flashbulb memories change over time because of the changing opinions of the world. For example, as new evidence about the cause of 9/11 was revealed, people remember knowing this before, although they really felt something else at the time. It makes sense that people who are more affiliated with an event would have a more accurate flashbulb memory, because they are basing their views of the event on their own experience, rather than what is going on in the news about the event.

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