Memorable Memories

There are many reasons why we remember some events much better than others. For example, personal memories with an emotional involvement or possessing rarity value (Wagenaar, 1986) are better remembered than personal memories lacking those characteristics. Attempts to identify other factors associated with very memorable or long-lasting memories have led to the discovery of two interesting phenomena: the self-reference effect and flashbulb memories.

It seems reasonable that information about oneself should be better remembered than information of a more impersonal kind, because we are especially interested in such information. This intuition defines the self-reference effect. Flashbulb memories are produced by very important, dramatic, and surprising public or personal events, such as the assassination of President Kennedy or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Brown and Kulik (1977) coined the term "flash-bulb memories", arguing that such memories are generally very accurate and immune from forgetting. As we will see, the crucial issue with both phenomena is whether the processes underlying them are essentially different from those underlying ordinary memories.

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