It seemed appropriate on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 to find an article on memories and the effects of the attacks. I settled on an article entitled, “How personal experience modulates the neural circuitry of memories of September 11”. The study had participants recall the events of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Since it’s unethical to do a memory task that strongly influences participants emotionally, research opportunities are not always available! In past studies done after presidential assassinations or other major crises, researchers found that these memories were more vivid and less often forgotten. They termed “flashbulb memory” to refer to a shocking, influential, and devastating event, and suggested that it used a different neural pathway (located in the limbic system due to the emotional response).
In this study, the researchers used neural imaging to see what areas of the brain were responsible for 9/11 memories versus other memories from 2001. They found that participants who were closer to the World Trade Center (about 2 miles or less) on the day of the attacks had a higher activation of the amygdala than those that were 4-5 miles away. However, many of the participants seemed to have stored and recalled memories of 9/11 as they would any other. This implies that personal experience plays a key role in our recollection of memories and its stimulation of the amygdala.