Why you remember the 1985 World Series but not your anniversaryBy PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Remember where you were when George Brett hit that home run off Goose Gossage in 1980? How about when Lin Elliot missed the three field goals in the Chiefs’ loss to the Colts in the playoff game in 1996?
But do you recall when you first met your spouse? Or do you have difficulty remembering a birthday or anniversary?
You’re not alone.
Washington University professor Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III is an expert in memory and he is frequently asked why people remember sporting events so clearly, but often forget when they were married.
“Relatively few people can actually (recall most major sporting events),” Roediger wrote in an e-mail. “A few people can remember many of these, but for most of us we just remember the times that our home team won the Super Bowl (the Rams in 2000 over the Titans, but I have no idea who won in 2005 — not the Rams). The platitude that I usually say is ‘people remember what really interests them’ (hence remembering your team’s win, but not, say, how some other team did).
“As to why these same people (ok, men) can’t remember anniversaries or the like, well ... it goes back to what they find interesting and important, what they talk about and repeatedly retrieve.”
Repeated retrieval is just what it sounds like. You and your friends talk about Mario Chalmers’ three-pointer in the 2008 NCAA championship game enough times and you are going to remember all the details of that moment.
“Imagine if you practiced retrieving the capitals of all 50 states once a day — they would come to you easily when you needed to remember, say, the capital of North Dakota,” Roediger wrote. “So for people who love sports and their home team, they talk about it frequently, remember the glory years (or year) in many conversations (maybe several times a week). However, a birthday, even of a loved one, comes around once a year so it is not retrieved (practiced) as frequently.”
Of course, there are some sports moments that bring you back to the moment you were watching it. Even those who aren’t Missouri fans remember watching Tyus Edney break the Tigers’ hearts.
“These experiences are called Flashbulb Memories (as though the event has been captured in a photographic flash, with details intact),” Roediger wrote. “The name comes from a paper published many years ago by two psychologists, Roger Brown and James Kulik.
“Repeated retrieval is involved in many of these kinds of events, but events that are emotional seem to be encoded quite strongly. The arousal of emotion (negative or positive) is often cited as helping to cause Flashbulb Memories. The encoding of emotional experiences seems to involve several brain regions and to provide particularly forceful and striking (but not perfect) memories for events.
“In recent years, many studies have been published about Flashbulb Memories of 9/11. People remember where they were, who they were with and how they heard the news about 9/11/2001.”