, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 326-343

The formation of flashbulb memories


A large group of subjects took part in a multinational test-retest study to investigate the formation of flashbulb (FS) memories for learning tie news of the resignation of the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Over 86% of the U.K. subjects were found to have FB memories nearly 1 year after the resignation; their memory reports were characterized by spontaneous, accurate, and full recall of event details, including minutiae. In contrast, less than 29%a of the non-U.K. subjects had FB memories 1 year later; memory reports in this group were characterized by forgetting, reconstructive errors, and confabulatory responses. A causal analysis of secondary variables showed that the formation of FB memories was primarily associated with the level of importance attached to the event and level of affective response to the news. These findings lend some support to the study by R. Brown and Kulik (1977), who suggest that FB memories may constitute a class of autobiographical memories distinguished by some form of preferential encoding.

This research was supported by each of the institutions to which the individual authors are affiliated. Additionsl data were collected by Peter Hayes. Cilia Moms, Peter Moms, and Stephen Dewhurst. Saran Gathercole and Philip Levy advised us on parts of the analyses and Gillian Cohen commented on an earlier draft of the paper