Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences

The role of event relevance and congruence to social groups in flashbulb memory formation

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  • Jennifer M. Talarico, Lafayette College, United States
  • Annette Bohn
  • Ineke Wessel, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Flashbulb memories are vivid, confidently held, long-lasting memories for the personal circumstances of learning about an important event. Importance is determined, in part, by social group membership. Events that are relevant to one’s social group, and furthermore, are congruent with the prior beliefs of that group, should be more likely to be retained as flashbulb memories. The Fukushima nuclear disaster was relevant to ongoing political conversations in both Germany and the Netherlands, but, while the disaster was congruent with German beliefs about the dangers of nuclear energy, it was incongruent with Dutch support for nuclear power. Danish participants would not have found the disaster to be particularly relevant. Partially consistent with this prediction, across two samples (N = 265 and N = 518), German participants were most likely to have flashbulb memories for the Fukushima disaster. Furthermore, event features thought to be related to flashbulb memory formation (e.g. ratings of importance and consequentiality) also differed as a function of nationality. Spontaneously generated flashbulb memories for events other than Fukushima also suggested that participants reported events that were relevant to national identity (e.g. the Munich attacks for Germans, the Utøya massacre for Danes, and Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 for Dutch participants).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)985-997
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORIES, DEATH, EXPERIENCE, Flashbulb memory, Fukushima nuclear disaster, RECOLLECTION, REMEMBER, VALENCE, social identity

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