How well does one remember the emotional events in one's life? Many studies indicate a strong correlation between the vividness with which an event is recalled, and the emotionality of the event, at the time it occurred (Bohannon, 1988; Brown & Kulik, 1977; Christianson & Loftus, 1990; Conway & Bekerian, 1988; Pillemer, 1984; Rubin & Kozin, 1984). Interestingly, this correlation seems independent of the type of emotion at stake (Reisberg, Heuer, McLean, & O'Shaughnessy, 1988; Robinson, 1980; White, 1989). Thus, in general, the stronger the emotion, the greater the vividness of subsequent recall. In this regard at least, “flashbulb” memories are continuous with remembering in general; that is, flashbulb memories simply represent the extreme of this affect–vividness relationship.
But how accurate are these vivid and detailed memories? If emotional events are recalled with great detail, is this evidence for some encoding or retrieval advantage associated with emotionality? Or, alternatively, is this evidence for high levels of construction and confabulation associated with emotion? In the former case, emotional memories would be both vivid and also veridical; in the latter case, emotional memories might be filled with errors and intrusions.
This question about accuracy is fueled by several concerns. As we describe below, several studies have documented conspicuous errors in the recall of emotional events. At the least, this implies that neither emotionality nor memory vividness provides any guarantee of memory accuracy.