Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Kristi Multhaup
Flashbulb memories are vivid autobiographical memories for the circumstances in which one learns of a distinct event that may be surprising, emotional, or personally important. Although these memories have been reported by individuals of all ages, it is unclear if there are age-related differences in flashbulb memory formation. Aging is associated with impairment of memory for the context in which one learns information (Spencer & Raz, 1995). However, memory for emotional events appears to be relatively impervious to age effects (Denburg, Buchanan, Tranel, & Adolphs, 2003). The aging literature on flashbulb memories has reported inconsistent findings, and this meta-analysis seeks to clarify this by determining the presence and magnitude of the effect size of age for flashbulb memories. A systematic review identified 17 studies for analysis that assessed non-clinical samples of younger adults below 40 years of age and older adults above 60 years of age, and reported outcomes of age effects on flashbulb memory measures. The meta-analysis revealed a significant age-related decline in flashbulb memory performance, with a small to medium effect size. No significant moderators were found to address the heterogeneity of effect sizes. Follow-up analyses examining age differences in canonical categories (components of flashbulb memory score) revealed that older adults had worse memories for ongoing activity, but not for source, location, others present, and time. Encoding and rehearsal variables were assessed due to their role as potential predictors of flashbulb memories, and no age differences were identified.