Is flashbulb memory a special instance of source memory? Evidence from older adults

Patrick S.R. Davidson, Elizabeth L. Glisky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Flashbulb memories (FMs) are vivid, stable memories for the reception of arousing, consequential news. Although such memories have been found in people of all ages, in the only examination of age differences to date, Cohen, Conway, and Maylor (1994) reported that older adults were less likely than young adults to experience a FM. We hypothesised that FM would be impaired in older adults with reduced frontal lobe (FL) function. To test this hypothesis, we asked older adults, who had been characterised according to FL function, to recall details of the moment that they first heard the news about the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. Long-term retention was tested 6 months later. Details concerning the reception of the news about Princess Diana's death were retained better than those associated with Mother Teresa's death. Importantly, there was no evidence that memory for these contextual details was related to FL function. A measure of medial temporal lobe function, derived from neuropsychological tests of episodic memory, was also not associated with memory for the reception events, although it was associated with memory for the details of an everyday autobiographical event. We speculated that emotionally arousing autobiographical memories may be qualitatively different from everyday memories and may involve the amygdala.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-111
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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