What Exactly Is A Core Memory?

If you've been on the Internet recently, you're probably familiar with the "core memory" trend that's been sweeping social media, particularly in the TikTok universe. According to Mashable, the trend involves posting a clip from a video the user finds important or sentimental and accompanying it with Dorian Marko's piano track, "Cornfield Chase." The trend is meant to evoke feelings of nostalgia by portraying the clip in a movie-like fashion (we can't lie — some clips can really pull on your heartstrings).  

If you search the trend, you'll find videos of people showing important moments from their childhood, spending time with their pets, and even recounting times with someone who isn't around anymore. So, what exactly is a "core memory," and what separates it from other memories we've stored away? To uncover this, we first need to take a look at how our brains process these moments and how our emotions play a major role in that process.

Core memories versus flashbulb memories

Try as you might, unfortunately, there is no way to ensure a memory lasts forever; however, you may have a better chance at recalling certain memories by getting in touch with your emotions, says GoodTherapy. By channeling the emotional state you felt in that specific moment, you have a higher chance of strengthening that memory. These are what experts call flashbulb memories, which are "extremely detailed and vivid memories that are typically retained for a lifetime." These typically involve some sort of major personal or historical moment in time. 

"Core memories," on the other hand, are events an individual believes helped shape their personality and way of thinking (their core, if you will). In actuality, this term isn't recognized by neuroscience or mental health professionals, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming a current staple in pop culture, HuffPost states. What constitutes a "core memory" depends on which moments you feel have contributed to creating the person you are today.

Do core memories actually shape us?

Despite the belief our personalities are crafted by "core memories," the truth is they have nothing to do with shaping the person we become, ScienceAlert explains. Our memories serve three different functions: self, social, and directive — none of which contribute to defining who we are and what we believe. Additionally, because our brain has unlimited storage, there are memories that may affect us in different scenarios. For example, you may recall an experience that seems relevant in your professional life, but does it hold the same merit in your personal life? 

This makes it difficult to differentiate which memories are relevant to our sense of self. Another major issue with this claim is the fact that our brains can't recall moments from our childhood with 100% accuracy, according to Communicating Psychological Science. A majority of the time, our recollection of an experience is formed by hearing stories from other people. We often confuse this with remembering those experiences firsthand. The bottom line is while they make great content for TikTok, "core memories" have nothing to do with who we truly are.