Flashbulb Memories as Narrative Tales Open Access

Harsch, Nicole Michelle (2010)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/j96020692?locale=en
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Abstract

Abstract
Flashbulb Memories as Narrative Tales
By Nicole Michelle Harsch
Flashbulb memories (FBMs) were first described by Brown and Kulik (1977) as being
photographic-like mental images of hearing the shocking news of an important event. However,
many studies have since indicated that FBMs are not more photographically accurate, nor more
long-lasting than ordinary autobiographical memories. Instead, what makes FBMs special may
simply be that they are often rated as more vivid and are often given higher confidence ratings
than ordinary memories. The objective of the present study was to examine FBMs from a new
narrative and story-telling perspective, to see if there is something intrinsic about FBMs that
distinguishes them as good stories to have and to share, regardless of accuracy. The current study
re-examined an established set of FBMs for the space shuttle Challenger disaster that were
collected from one group of college students over three time periods: in 1986, 1988 and 1989.
The current analysis was three-pronged. First, the students' stories of hearing the news were
judged using common narrative analysis schemas (coherence, orientation and evaluation) to see if
the stories changed over time to become better stories from a structural perspective. Second the
narratives were judged from a listener-interest point of view, to see if the narratives became more
interesting and worth sharing over time. Finally the students' metamemory comments about why
they thought their narratives changed over time were coded to see if, like literary autobiographies,
specific details of the FBMs changed over time to become more true to the gist of the experience
of the narrator. Results showed that students consistently told coherent narratives that contained
a moderate level of orienting details. However, the later 1989 verbal narratives contained fewer
evaluative (emotional) comments and were judged by two coders as less interesting stories with
less flash and pizzazz. The students' metamemory comments indicated they thought their
changed narratives better reflected the gist of their experience and better matched the visual
image they held, regardless of accuracy. The limitations of comparing written and verbal
narratives over time were discussed.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................1
A Brief History of Flashbulb Memory....................................................................2
Defining flashbulb memory .......................................................................3
The photographic copy theory ...................................................................4
The event that triggers the flash.................................................................7
Traditional lines of inquiry ........................................................................8
A Current View of FBM........................................................................................10
Support from the Challenger study.......................................................................11
The Functional Perspective ...................................................................................16
FBMs as Narratives ...............................................................................................18
Narrative structure....................................................................................18
Narrative pizzazz......................................................................................20
Narrative truth ..........................................................................................21
Cultural influence.....................................................................................24
Overview and Hypotheses .....................................................................................26
Method........................................................................................................................................27
Participants.............................................................................................................27
The Original Questionnaire ...................................................................................28
The Fall 1988 Questionnaire .................................................................................28
The Spring 1989 Interview....................................................................................29
The Original Coding Procedure ............................................................................33
Findings from the Original 1992 Analyses...........................................................35
New Narrative Coding...........................................................................................37
Coding for coherence ...............................................................................38
Coding for orientation..............................................................................39
Coding for evaluation...............................................................................40
Coding for pizzazz ...................................................................................40
Coding student explanations....................................................................41
Coding for surprise...................................................................................43
Results.........................................................................................................................................44
Word Count............................................................................................................45
Narrative Structure.................................................................................................46

Coherence .................................................................................................46
Orientation................................................................................................47
Evaluation.................................................................................................47
Narrative pizzazz ...................................................................................................49
Within-narrative Correlations................................................................................50
Between-narrative Correlations.............................................................................52
Relating narrative coding to confidence and vividness ........................................53
The T1 narratives .....................................................................................54
The T2 narratives .....................................................................................55
The T3 narratives .....................................................................................56
Relating narrative coding to accuracy and consistency........................................58
The T1 narratives .....................................................................................58
The T2 narratives......................................................................................59
The T3 narratives .....................................................................................59
Metamemory Content ............................................................................................59
Expressing Surprise ...............................................................................................63
Discussion...................................................................................................................................65
Coding the narratives.............................................................................................66
Coherence .................................................................................................68
Orientation................................................................................................69
Evaluation.................................................................................................69
Pizzazz ......................................................................................................70
Coding the metamemory comments......................................................................72
How FBMs are special...........................................................................................76
Conclusions............................................................................................................78
References ..................................................................................................................................80
Appendix.....................................................................................................................................87

List of Tables
Table
Page
1
Means (standard deviations) for word count across all three times............................45
2
Correlations of word count and the narrative coding variables. .................................46
3
Means (standard deviations) for coherence across all three times..............................47
4
Means (standard deviations) for orientation across all three times.............................47
5
Means (standard deviations) for evaluation across all three times. ............................48
6
Means (standard deviations) for pizzazz across all three times. .................................49
7
Correlations of the new narrative coding variables with each other by interview. ....51
8
Correlation of each narrative variables across interviews (N = 36)............................53
9
Comparing narrative variables (T1) with self-report variables (T2 & T3).................54
10
Comparing narrative variables (T2) with self-report variables (T2 & T3).................56
11
Comparing narrative variables (T3) with self-report variables (T2 & T3).................57
12
Comparing narrative variables with accuracy and consistency scores. ......................58
13
Student explanations of differences in their memories between T3 and T1...............60
14
Means (standard deviations) for surprise during the oral interview (T3)...................63
15
Comparing surprise (T3) with self-report variables (T2 & T3) ..................................64
16
Comparing surprise (T3) with accuracy and consistency scores. ...............................64
17
Explanations given by students with differing levels of surprise. ..............................64

List of Figures
Figure......................................................................................................................................Page
1
Adjusted means (standard error) for evaluation across all times.............................49
2
Adjusted means (standard error) for pizzazz across all times. ................................50
3
How three different types of culturally shared memories might align
across the life paths of three people born several years apart..................................76

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