Researchers suggest that a flashbulb memory is formed when a person learns of an event that is very surprising, shocking, and highly emotional. A personal flashbulb memory may form when you receive news of the death or serious injury of a close relative or friend.

It has been argued that flashbulb memories do not constitute a different type of memory altogether. D.B. Pillemer suggests that all memories can vary on the dimensions of each emotion, the importance of the consequences of the event, and how much people think or talk about the event afterwards. Flashbulb memories are extremly memorable because they rank high in all three areas. This should make flashbulb memories the most accurate but even these are hardly infallible. Several studies suggest that flashbulb memories are not as accurate as people believe them to be.