Kopp, S. J., Sockol, L. E., & Multhaup, K. S. (In press). Age-related differences in flashbulb memories: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000467
Recent meta-analyses reveal age-related declines in short-term memory (STM), working memory, associative memory, prospective memory, face memory, recognition, and recall. The present meta-analyses extend this work beyond predominantly laboratory-based tasks to a naturalistic phenomenon. Flashbulb memories are vivid autobiographical recollections for the circumstances in which one learns of a distinct event that may be surprising, emotional, or personally important (the reception event). The existing literature on aging and flashbulb memories includes inconsistent findings. The present meta-analyses included 16 studies (N = 1898) that examined flashbulb memory in nonclinical samples of younger adults (below age 40 years) and older adults (above age 60 years). Findings, after exclusion of an outlier, suggest a small-to-moderate age-related impairment in flashbulb memory scores (k = 14, Hedges’ g = -0.30, 95% CI [-0.45, -0.15], p < .001) that was not moderated by study characteristics. After exclusion of an outlier, older adults’ flashbulb memories were also significantly less consistent across time than younger adults’ (k = 7, Hedges’ g = -0.29, 95% CI [-0.47, -0.11], p = .002). Secondary analyses investigated age-related differences in the presence and consistency of canonical categories of flashbulb memories and encoding and rehearsal variables associated with flashbulb memory formation and retention. Age-related differences were found only for consistency of memory for ongoing activity at the time of the reception event, favoring younger adults (k = 3, Hedges’ g = -0.40, 95% CI [-0.65, -0.15], p = .002). Overall, these findings are consistent with age-related impairment in flashbulb memory formation and retention.