|"Never Forget" (source)|
...or do I?
A study in 2003 tested the consistency of flashbulb memories over time and compared the details to 'control memories' of everyday events. They specifically recorded memories from people during the day after the 9/11 attacks, and then recorded memories of the same events from subsets of those same people 1 week, 6 weeks, and 32 weeks later. They found that the flashbulb memories did have different properties when compared to control memories, but that consistency was not one of them.
|Talarico and Rubin 2003, Figure 1a|
However, they did find that the level of confidence in the memory was higher for flashbulb memories than for everyday memories. People thought (incorrectly) that their memories of the 9/11 attacks were more accurate than their other memories.
So again we learn the lesson that we cannot trust ourselves.
In the authors words:
"The true 'mystery,' then, is not why flashbulb memories are so accurate for so long,... but why people are so confident in the accuracy of their flashbulb memories." Talarico and Rubin (2003)
But I think the most interesting finding in this paper was that the flashbulb memories of 9/11 were more likely to be recalled 'through ones own eyes' than the everyday memories. Everyday memories were seen 'through ones own eyes' at the beginning and a at 1 week, but at 6 and 32 weeks the everyday memories were more likely to be seen 'from an outside observer perspective.' The flashbulb memories, on the other hand, were seen 'through ones own eyes' at all time points. Indeed, when I think of my own 9/11 memory, I still see it through my own eyes.
The authors don't go into why that might be or what it might mean, so we are left to wonder.
Talarico JM, & Rubin DC (2003). Confidence, not consistency, characterizes flashbulb memories. Psychological science, 14 (5), 455-61 PMID: 12930476