Retrieve involves a process of pattern completion in which a few details of the past experience are activated, and in turn trigger or reactivate the remaining regions of the brain where the details of the past experience are stored. This is a description of perfect storage of visual memory and perfect recall of the same visual memory in its social context. But recall is not always perfect. It improves with intentionally focused attention to detail.
Many neuroscientists have studied exceptions to what is thought of as normal memory storage and retrieval. In other words, when individuals try to recall a specific event, face, or name, they typically search for clues that start the chain reaction of retrieval of the complete memory. However, whenever we witness a serious accident or other events that have personal relevance related to danger or threat to survival, our brain appears to record the details of such events with unusual detail and accuracy.
The emotional significance of such experiences affects the storage and recall of the details of these memories long after the events have passed. Most of us remember with exceptional clarity the televised picture of planes flying into towers on a previous September 11, and we most likely remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at that moment we saw the first pictures.
Neuroscientists have discovered that memories of devastating events remain with individuals for a very long time. Individuals directly involved in these events, such as the firemen who worked on the ground in an effort to save the lives of those escaping from the burning buildings on September 11, were undoubtedly troubled deeply by these memories for a long time afterward, and are perhaps even now. The human brain’s capacity to vividly recall traumatic events presumably increases the likelihood that we will recognize clues that help us to avoid such incidents in the future.