The notion of ‘flashbulb memories’ was introduced in 1977 by Roger Brown and James Kulik, from Harvard University. What are they? Memories that relate to circumstances during which we learnt of an important public event: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the explosion of the Challenger shuttle, the September 11 bombings, etc.
Brown and Kulik focused their research on the assassination of President Kennedy, showing that many people remembered who they were with, the place they where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. According to the two psychologists, the emotional events leading to flashbulb memories trigger a 'special’ recording mechanism in our memory. They believe it provides a more detailed and exact encoding of the context in which we learnt of an important public event and guarantees its prolonged preservation in our memory.
Many other studies have subsequently been dedicated to flashbulb memories. They don’t completely agree with the conclusions of Brown and Kulik. While these special memories are often recorded in a more detailed and durable way, they are nevertheless likely to include errors and distortions, things may be added over time or certain elements may be gradually eliminated.