Similarly, “flash bulb” memories occur when a particular day is forever cemented in your brain due to the occurrence of a significant, often tragic, event. The phenomenon gets its name for the etching of the entire day into your brain secondary to a large event. For people in the United States, these tragic events might be JFK’s assassination, 9/11, or the Boston Marathon bombs. For people in France and everywhere, the daily events on January 7 when the Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred will be forever remembered. At the time, the minutiae of the day is etched in your brain: sitting in your office, getting a hair cut, being told about what just happened by your school room teacher.
There is an anatomical reason for this. The limbic system, in the cortical region of the brain, contains both the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus processes memory and the amygdala processes emotion: they sit adjacent to each other and memories associated with strong emotions remain more salient and more retrievable.
This is already known. New York University is probing further, according to The New York Times, “How the brain stores trivial memories, just in case,” Thursday, January 22, A14. The brain may be automatically storing even trivial memories for future reference. In this study, participants viewed mundane pictures of animals and tools. Directly after viewing, there was no difference in recall based on whether mildly shocked or not. For those who took the test six hours or a day later, participants remembered 7 percent more items from the category they viewed while being mildly shocked.
It is interesting to consider the little details in life being set aside but not forgotten in case needed. And a shock or a strong emotional reaction indication for the brain that the mundane is needed. If I were a poet, I would set a cadence to this developing conceptualization of the minutiae of life never really being forgotten—for the just-in-case moment.