Richard Belz

Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

John Paul Legerski


Objectives: As mass shootings have become more frequent in recent years, one question that arises is whether the public’s attention and memory of these mass shootings may be becoming less salient over time. To evaluate changes in the saliency and public interest in these tragedies, this two-part study 1) utilized open access data from Wikipedia and 2) measured the presence of flashbulb memories (FBM) for these events.

Methods: For Part I, changes in byte size and edits in 19 mass shooting Wikipedia articles were examined over 12 months to determine public interest in these events. In Part II, 500 participants responded to an online MTurk survey about their FBMs of 22 mass shootings that occurred from 1999 to 2018.

Results: Part I results were mixed. Byte size of Wikipedia shooting posts one year after each shooting tended to be larger for more recent shootings. The number of edits showed no significant difference and more recent shootings showed a sharper drop in byte size and number of edits across 12 months. Part II findings indicated that participants reported FBM of these mass shootings. The Columbine Shooting in 1999 was the shooting most frequently identified as an FBM, although the date of the shooting did not appear to be a strong predictor of FBMs. Participants reporting mental illness, knowing someone affected by a mass shooting, and other factors predicted reporting FBMs of shootings. Many participants also reported remembering mass shootings that never occurred.

Conclusions: The saliency of mass shootings in the U.S. appears to be influenced by various factors, including individual characteristics and characteristics of the shootings. Whether saliency in mass shootings has waned over time is difficult to conclude based on the mixed results of Study 1 and 2. Potential implications for research and public policy are discussed.