Group Differences in Memory for a Political Event
George D. Gaskell
London School of Economics
Daniel B. Wright
University of Bristol, UK
John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960. His youthful dynamism, his "association" with various celebrities, and his family ties produced a mythlike image of this leader of the free world. It is said this is the closest the United States came to monarchy since George Washington turned down the idea nearly 200 years ago. Kennedy presided over the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, challenged the Mafia in the United States, and confronted Khrushchev in some of the most heated battles of the Cold War. On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed as he was driven through the streets of Dallas, Texas. The president's life and achievements, the manner of his untimely death, and what he might have achieved, touched the heart of the American public.
Several years later, Brown and Kulik ( 1977) used this event, and several other notable political events of the period, including Martin Luther King's assassination and the attempted assassination of Gerald Ford, as part of what is now considered to be a seminal contribution to the study of memory. Brewer ( 1992) commended the work saying that the paper is "innovative and opened up a new field of research" (p. 282) and "there were good reasons for researchers to be excited by the Brown and Kulik paper even though there were serious problems with both its theory and its data" (p. 284). Brown and Kulik asked a group of 80 people to recall what they were doing, who they were with, where they were, and when they first heard about these notable events. They found that people had remarkably good memories, particularly for John Kennedy's assassination. The recollections of these