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Lights-out for some flashbulb memories.

Lights-out for some flashbulb memories

Some psychologists suspect that inaccuracies sometimes creep into the recall of vivid "flashbulb memories" for experiences just before, during and after learning of a starting event (SN: 6/4/88, p.358). Thus, flashbulb memories require no special memory mechanism wired for perfect recall, according to these researchers.

Their argument may indeed hold up, but a major puzzle about flashbulb memories remains unanswered, says psychologist Ulric Neisser of Emory University in Atlanta: Why do people so often have vivid recollections that prove incorrect?

Neisser's query stems from a study he conducted with Emory colleague Nicole Harsch. On the morning after the Jan. 28, 1986, space shuttle explosion, the researchers asked Emory freshmen in an introductory psychology class how they had heard the news of the disaster the day before. Three years later, 44 of the students again told the researchers how they learned of the tragedy.

Although the students gave plausible and confident accounts after three years has passed, nearly one-third of them provided descriptions that differed substantially from their day-after recollections, Neisser reports in the January AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST.

The large number of "utterly false reports" concerning such a shocking event came as a surprise, Neisser says, and deserves further scrutiny in flashbulb-memory studies.
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Title Annotation:inaccuracies in memories of startling events
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 2, 1991
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