Flashbulb Memories: Theories and Examples

Usually, people are confident in the inviolability of their memories and are ready to vouch for the accuracy of the details, especially when it is a significant event for them. Meanwhile, false memories are the most common thing; they inevitably accumulate in the memory of every person. Most people have so-called flashbulbs – flashes of which places they visited and what they were doing when something important happened. For example, it could be the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. However, no matter how clear and detailed these memories are, psychologists find them surprisingly inaccurate.

Verification of the flashbulb memories theory belongs to American researchers Roger Brown and James Kulik. According to this theory, the news about a surprising and significant event is not just remembered but makes a person remember the immediate context in which the information was perceived (Muzzulini et al., 2020). Further, M. Conway and his students describe autobiographical memory, for which consciousness, understood as a socio-cultural phenomenon, is the core element (Merck et al., 2020). He identifies episodic memory associated with vividly experienced memories of local life episodes that include an emotional register. Criticism of these types of memory is directed at the fact that flashbulbs do not always correspond to actual events. Those memories related to events are subjected to retrospective processing in the course of the memory in the individual’s work (Feldman, 2014). At the same time, in compulsive repetition and the negative repetition of similarity, there is a positive repetition of difference, a gap in which the delayed sprouts of innovative meanings ripen.

My example will be related to the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. I am sitting in the living room next to my uncle and dad watching TV in my memories. We are watching a live broadcast from the Republican presidential candidate’s headquarters. I do not remember the face on the screen because I was looking at the faces of the adults sitting next to me. I feel my uncle’s intense interest in what is happening, which is transmitted to me. I remember what my dad and uncle talked about: they discussed the percentage of votes counted the day before on the CNN website. When I heard the announcement of the presidential election results, I was in the kitchen pouring myself an orange juice. When I listened to the voice announcing Trump’s victory, my first thought was that Hillary Clinton might be distraught.

Speaking about Trump’s past victory during the recent presidential campaign, I accidentally discovered that my memory was not accurate but substituted. I was talking to my uncle, who told me the news. In a conversation with him, I mentioned that I learned about Trump’s victory from a news program. This memory replaced the original one, in which I heard the news from my uncle, who told me about Trump’s victory when he followed me into the kitchen. While Trump’s victory was significant and emotional to me, there was a memory swap. Based on the above, my flashbulb memory event experience is consistent with the critics of flashbulb memories.

The memory of a person’s life experience is incomplete and placed not in chronological but in eventual time. The recollection of experience is recursive – it repeats itself, transforming in the inner world of a person. The experience is repeated in the life world, unfolded again, experienced, and re-experienced by a person in one’s work. The individual’s work mediates the recollection of past experiences – the objective meaning is embodied, turning into a living, lasting event. The continuity of the past is explained from the continuity of the temporality of the individual. In the horizon of the individual’s work, there is a place of recursivity, in which the memory of the event of the former Self unfolds. The fragmentary nature of the experience of life speaks not about the way it is stored but about the form of existence – non-unity, diversity of realities, and the multiplicity of the Self.


Feldman, S. F. (2014). Understanding Psychology. Ohio, US: McGraw-Hill Education.

Merck, C., Yamashiro, J. K., & Hirst, W. (2020). Remembering the big game: Social identity and memory for media events. Memory, 28(6), 795-814.

Muzzulini, B., Tinti, C., Conway, M. A., Testa, S., & Schmidt, S. (2020). Flashbulb memory: Referring back to Brown and Kulik’s definition. Memory, 28(6), 766-782.

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"Flashbulb Memories: Theories and Examples." PsychologyWriting, 7 Oct. 2023, psychologywriting.com/flashbulb-memories-theories-and-examples/.


PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Flashbulb Memories: Theories and Examples'. 7 October.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Flashbulb Memories: Theories and Examples." October 7, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/flashbulb-memories-theories-and-examples/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Flashbulb Memories: Theories and Examples." October 7, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/flashbulb-memories-theories-and-examples/.


PsychologyWriting. "Flashbulb Memories: Theories and Examples." October 7, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/flashbulb-memories-theories-and-examples/.