Monitor on Psychology - September 2011 - (Page 65)
McGaugh says neurobiological research from his and other labs shows that activating the amygdala with emotional stimuli correlates highly with subsequent memory of that stimuli. Because of this emotional component, flashbulb memory is more accurate than regular memory, he claims; it’s just that studies to date haven’t controlled comparisons of flashbulb and regular memories carefully enough. “Just a tiny bit of emotional arousal will influence whether you remember something just a few minutes later,” says McGaugh. And the more directly you’re affected by something like 9/11 — the closer you are to it physically and emotionally — the more emotionally arousing, and better remembered, it will likely be, he says. McGaugh points to a study led by Cornell’s Neisser that looked at people’s personal recollections regarding the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake — what they were doing when they found out about it, for example. The study found that Californians directly jolted by the quake remembered their own experiences of it almost perfectly, much better than they remembered hearing about the Bay Bridge collapse. Atlantans, by comparison, had mostly forgotten how they heard about the event. But those Atlantans with relatives in the Loma Prieta area remembered learning of it much more clearly. The study results were published in 1996 in Memory (Vol. 4, No. 4). In the same vein, and not surprisingly, the British remember close-to-home events, such as the death of Princess Diana and the resignation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, much more clearly than Americans do, past research indicates. But what couldn’t be clearer for many Americans — whether recalled accurately or not — are the horrific events of 9/11. As the Phelps study indicates, those who saw it firsthand can recall it like it was yesterday, the images forever seared into their memories. “I saw some scaffolding that I could go under to avoid the
• Berntsen D., Thomsen, D.K. (2005) Personal memories for remote historical events: Accuracy and clarity of flashbulb memories related to World War II. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 242–257. • Brown, R. & Kulik, J. (1977) Flashbulb memories. Cognition, 5, 73–99. • Davidson, P.S.R., Cook, S.P., Glisky, E.L. (2006) Flashbulb memories for September 11th can be preserved in older adults. Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition, 13, 196–206. • McGaugh, J.L. (1993) Memory and emotion: the making of lasting memories. new York: Columbia University Press. • Phelps E.A., Sharot T. (2008) How (and why) emotion enhances the subjective sense of recollection. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 147–152. Talarico, J.M., Rubin D.C. (2007) Flashbulb memories are special after all; in phenomenology, not accuracy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 21: 557–578.
falling debris,” said one participant in her study. “I saw with my own eyes: the towers burning in red flames, the noises and cries of people,” reported another. For them, it is an instant frozen in time by emotional Instamatic. The focus preserved and unwavering. Much like a photograph. n Bridget Murray Law is a writer in Silver Spring, Md.
Psychologists’ memories of 9/11
In the days and weeks following 9/11, psychologists in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia provided comfort and support to victims’ friends and families and to recovery workers. Click on the names below to watch three psychologists discuss their experiences: • Margaret Pepe, PhD, who now manages military mental health services for the American red Cross, was a disaster mental health officer there in 2001. A native Pennsylvanian, she was sent to the site of the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pa., where she helped to coordinate a memorial service for victims’ families. • Daniel Dodgen, PhD, who works in disaster mental health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spent weeks volunteering at the Pentagon site. the experience helped convince him to work in disaster mental health full time. • June Feder, PhD, a New York City private practitioner, was the New York State Disaster Response network chair in 2001. She coordinated the hundreds of psychologists who volunteered in the aftermath of the attacks.
septeMber 2011 • Monitor on psychology
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