Flashbulb Memories

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Flashbulb Memory

a flashbulb memory is a vivid, precise, concrete and long-lasting memory that is produced when one experiences a deep emotional event.

Amygdala

a part of the brain involved in processing strong emotions such as fear, and lust.

Recall

the mental process in which the mind retrieves events or information from past experiences.

Conditioning

teaching a human or animal to associate environmental factors (such as a flashing light or a sound) with an emotion by using physical stimuli (e.g. an electric shock)
For example, LeDoux conducted a fear conditioning experiment on rats where the rat would hear a sound or see a flashing light and at the same time receive a mild shock. This teaches them to fear the flashing light or the sound made.

Autonomic Nervous System

found in the spinal cord, it is responsible for the physical responses of our body to environmental factors (e.g. controls muscle movement, motor reflex, blood pressure and heart rate.)

Exposure Therapy

usually conducted on humans. The prime goal of exposure therapy is to rid someone of a phobia. It involves exposing the person to the feared stimuli in hope to challenge the mind further and further until it reaches habituation.

Issue with Flashubulb Memories

The issue regarding flashbulb memories is that many researchers say that flashbulb memories solely come from surprising and emotionally arousing experiences whereas others would argue that flashbulb memories are not governed by surprise. Therefore there could also be a non-surprising emotional event that creates a flashbulb memory (e.g. moon landing).

Why Flashbulb Memories are Researched

Research into flashbulb memories is usually conducted to study where and how emotional memories are stored in the brain. This is a prime example of reductionist research as it seeks to associate certain behavior with certain parts of the brain but at the same time it is a significant study to how stimuli are cognitively processed. This research is conducted to give new insight into how emotions such as fear can be controlled cognitively as well as biologically. This was done to give new insight into understanding emotion, and on another level, to find ways to possibly rehabilitate people who have experienced surprising situations and have been affected by it, like post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and phobias.

LeDoux's Fear Conditioning Experiment (1994) - Aims

His aims were to find where the brain stores emotional memory and how emotional memory is processed in the brain.

LeDoux's Fear Conditioning Experiment (1994) - Process and Results

He started off by using a fear conditioning experiment with rats, pairing a tone with a foot shock until the tone triggered the physical responses by the ANS without the shock.LeDoux found, after making several lesions in parts of the rats brains associated with sound processing for example, he found that by examining the activity in the brain during the conditioning, there was also activity in the amygdala. When creating lesions in the amygdala he found that the rats no longer feared the tone because they didn't recognise it. The first signal was quicker and reached the amygdala from the thalamus before the other signal from the cortex. The one from the thalamus was thought to make the rat react to the stimuli quickly, without thinking to much, as if it were a threat. The second was believed to cause the rat to re-analyze the situation to see if there was a threat.

LeDoux's Fear Conditioning Experiment (1994) - Conclusions Drawn

After the experiment, LeDoux made this analogy about emotion and memory - "When you see a snake, you don't need to know that a snake is a reptile or that its skin
can be used to make belts before you start running, and if what you see
turns out to be a stick and not a snake, you're no worse off for running."
This study implied that a possible reason that flashbulb memories are so vivid is because the surprise of something creates a largely strong neural exchange from the thalamus to the amygdala that creates frantic reactions by the body physically. The biological changes in the body seem to heighten senses and reactions and could just as well heighten memory in that sense. This supports the theory that surprise is needed to heighten memory.

LeDoux's Fear Conditioning Experiment (1994) - Ethical Issues

There are not very many ethical issues with this experiment, however on of the most important ethical issues to consider is that it took nearly a decade for LeDoux to get these results which means he did a lot of repeated attempts on rats, making lesions in their brain, etc. I guess it is understandable to experiment on a small group of rats, however he experimented on a large quantity of rats over ten years.

DeQuervain's Experiment (2006) - Aims

Her aim was to find out whether or not you needed surpirse to create a flashbulb memory or if it was genetic factors that influenced memory capacity.

DeQuervain's Experiment (2006) - Studies

She studied a neurotransmitter called alpha2b-adrenoceptor that was involved in forming memory. She found that Rwandan refugees had a memory enhancing neurotransmitter called yohimbine as well that enhanced memory as well as the alpha2b-adrenoceptor and decided to test two groups of Swiss people. Ones without a yohimbine gene and ones with it.

DeQuervain's Experiment (2006) - Process and Results

She showed these groups positive scenes such as families playing together, negative scenes such as car accidents, and neutral ones, such as people on the phone. The result showed that people without the yohimbine neurotransmitter were able to recall the more emotionally charged pictures better then the ones with it. The neutral pictures, recall was the same in both groups. These results showed that the stimuli does not play a significant affect and that maybe genetics is what increases the brains capacity to recall flashbulb memories better than normal ones.

DeQuervain's Experiment (2006) - Conclusions

So the comparison between the two cultures, Rwandan refugees and Swiss people showed that even though Rwandan refugees have more of a reason to recall their emotional experiences better, since there are more Swiss people without the yohimbine factor in their bodies they can recall normal memories just as well as Rwandans can with highly emotional experiences.

DeQuervain's Experiment (2006) - Criticisms

There are not many criticisms about this, however one would be that it is a close minded experiment only looking at how genetics play a role, to draw a conclusion about the concept of flashbulb memories. The problem with this is that there are countless numbers of factors that influence memory, and even though genetics may be one of them it should not be implied that it is a key factors in the concept of flashbulb memories.

DeQuervain's Experiment (2006) - Ethical Issues

Ethical issues to consider are minimal as all participants gave consent to do the experiment, however previous studies done by deQuervain in terms of testing on Rwandan refugees may be considered unethical because they are using people's traumatic emotional experiences for experiments and refugees may not want to recall those experiences.

Evaluation - Advantages

- The majority of flashbulb memory experiments have always found a relationship between emotion and cognition in this memory process, and there is very little evidence to say otherwise.
- Most results are taken from humans as most experiments concerning this theory often involve the researcher asking someone to recall what they were doing, where they were, etc. at a time of a major event or emotional experience. This makes the theory more reliable, as they don't have to examine animals which may not have the same perspective of stimuli as we do.

Evaluation - Disadvantages

- There is strong evidence to support that even though flashbulb memories associate emotion with cognition, they seem to be no different from other long term memories that we experience everyday and should not be categorized differently.
- The theory is not very concrete and has a lot of different models created for it, as well as theories behind how flashbulb memories really work so it could be criticized to be too criticized in a sense.

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