fb-pixel Skip to main content

Details may fade, but memory of trauma is flashbulb vivid

The opinion piece offered by Jennifer C. Braceras (“Feinstein played Ford like a pawn,” Opinion, Sept. 28) offers a facile dismissal of the accuracy of Christine Blasey Ford’s recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Traumatic memory is essentially different than memory of ordinary, everyday events. During a traumatic event, the brain becomes ultra-focused on the most imminent aspects of the threat, while extraneous and peripheral details are often lost and then forgotten. The differences between traumatic and everyday memories hinge on the critical levels of surprise and meaningfulness of the impact experienced by the individual. In some ways, traumatic memories are akin to flashbulb memories (such as the vivid recollections most of us have of the principal events of Sept. 11, 2001).

While none of us knows what transpired behind a locked door 36 years ago, Ford’s recollections are absolutely consistent with the known way that traumatic memory works. That she remembers the faces and names of her attackers along with their laughter, but not the peripheral details of address and date, is in keeping with how traumatic memories are processed and recalled.


Donald Davidoff

Chief of the neuropsychology department

McLean Hospital


The writer is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.