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Image of the Week: Remembering Sept. 11

Today the United States pauses to remember the lives that were lost in during Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

This image of the "Tribute in Light" installation, which was designed to evoke the destroyed twin towers and was one of the first memorials to the victims of 9/11, tugs powerfully at a chord in our collective memory.

Although there has been a great deal of coverage about the tenth anniversary of the attacks, one story I haven't seen is an analysis of how we remember those attacks. So I was quite interested in a recent Q&A with John Gabrieli, PhD, who, when he was at Stanford, undertook a large-scale study of how people remembered the attacks. Here's a bit of the MIT News Office release:

Q. How do the emotions experienced during a traumatic event such as 9/11 influence how we recall what happened?

A. In general, emotions substantially enhance our memory for experiences. Indeed, there is a brain structure, the amygdala, which seems to be specialized for the enhancement of memory on the basis of emotion and arousal.

But two other aspects of emotionally charged memories have been noted in multiple laboratory and real-life studies. First, the natural focus on the … emotional experience often decreases memory for other aspects of that experience. Second, because the event is so powerful, people are often overconfident that their memory for all aspects of the experience is highly accurate. We may agree that we remember little about Sept. 3, 2001, but we feel we remember a lot about our experience on Sept. 11, 2001, with great certainty.

And, however we may have formed our memories of that day, today our thoughts are with the victims of 9/11 and with the families they left behind.

Photo by Francisco Diez

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