• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Want to organize your cloud files? Sign up for a free webinar to see how Dokkio (a new product from PBworks) can help you find, organize, and collaborate on your Drive, Gmail, Dropbox, and Slack files: Weds, May 27 at 2PM Eastern / 11AM Pacific

Memory in the Classroom

Page history last edited by Sue Frantz 7 years, 10 months ago


Main -> In the Classroom: Memory

Discussion questions: For use in online discussion forums or in-class discussions.  Also see In the News: Memory for additional discussion questions.


  • Where are memories located?
  • Why do we forget?
  • How does injury and disease affect memory?
  • Now suppose that you are an attorney defending a client who is being prosecuted based on eyewitness testimony.  Explain how you would demonstrate to members of the jury the flaws in eyewitness testimony. 
  • If you could wave a magic wand that would eliminate your ability to forget, would you do it?  Why or why not? 




Limitations of eyewitness accounts demonstrations 


DRM Memory Lists (courtesy of Sue Frantz, 7/19/2012)

In the classic DRM (Deese, Roediger, McDermott) demonstration, present students with a list of 15 words closely related to a target word. Ask students to recall the list. Most students will recall the target word as having been in the list.  See this Notre Dame PDF for word lists.


Peter's Friends (coutesy of Bill Altman, via PsychTeacher, 2/14/2010)


I use a 6-7 minute clip from the film Peter's Friends, which my students have never seen.  I show it at the start of class, and then give them a quiz on the film after about 15 or 20 minutes.  We then debrief on the quiz after another 15 or 20 minutes.  Two of the items on the quiz (which is mostly multiple-choice) are designed to provoke false memories.  This allows me to discuss both the lack of eyewitness memory, and the possibility of false memories creeping in.  Giving a few class periods might be even better, but I'm doing it within the memory unit in introductory psychology, so my time on the topic is limited. 


Web-based bomber-on-roof eyewitness test (courtesy of Joe Melcher, via PsychTeacher, 2/14/2010)


Here's an excellent demonstration, courtesy of Gary Wells (a leading eyewitness performance researcher). It's got the event (a short video) and a line-up (also video). You'll need QuickTime on your computer to run them. (This assumes you have web access in the classroom.) 




The really cool thing about this is that it is a suspect-absent lineup. It'll be up to you whether or not to make "not present" an option. If you don't, maybe only 5% of the students will spontaneously do it. They'll all assume he's in the lineup and will use the relative judgment strategy (pick the person most closely resembling whom they remember). I find that even when I provide the "not present" option, few students take it. 



Web-based street scene eyewitness test (courtesy of Nick Schmitt via PsychTeacher, 2/14/2010)


This is a very short demonstration for eyewitness testimony, but it's pretty effective in that students give a wide range of descriptions from the video.  First, I show a short video clip from the website hyperlinked below.  The video is only about a minute long.  I usually show it at the beginning of the class and ask the students to imagine themselves sitting at a sidewalk cafe enjoying the day.  That's all I say about it.  The video shows various things around them and then a loud crashing noise occurs from down the sidewalk and two men run from a store right past the camera.


After the video, I say "We'll get back to that later", and then I give a brief overview of the topic of memory and show them another short video about E.P., which takes about 10 minutes.  Then I go back to the website and click the arrows to diplay questions about the eyewitness video.  I also ask my students to write physical descriptions of the first man that ran past the camera.  I am always amazed at the range of descriptions that students give for his clothing, hair, etc.  The website also includes a photo lineup for a vehicle that parks next to the sidewalk and a photo lineup of suspects.   Most students choose the suspect that was actually the waiter at the cafe where they were seated.  About 10 percent of students don't even pick out the correct vehicle that parked next to the sidewalk.  Some of them even think falsely that it was an entirely different type of vehicle (a minivan instead of a car for example). 


What I like most about this short demonstration is that there isn't a whole lot expected of students in terms of their recall, but they still perform somewhat poorly.  Here is the link to the website: http://www.youramazingbrain.org.uk/testyourself/eyewitness.htm 


Standard vs. cognitive interview (courtesy of Keiron Walsh via PsychTeacher, 2/15/2010)


There are a couple of activities that I find really useful and my students really enjoy. One is to use a video clip from a TV programme like Columbo (easy to find a good scene). I divide the class into 4 groups - two witness groups and two interviewer groups. While one group watches the clip (I get a responsible student to start and stop it) I give written instructions on how to carry out a standard interview or a cognitive interview to the two interview groups who have been taken to a separate room. 


The results of the interviews are always strongly in favour of the cognitive interview. They also show how poor eyewitness memory is, as both groups make numerous mistakes. Most mistakes involve reconstructions. The students are often quite shocked at the glaring errors they make when I show them the clip again.


The case of the missing briefcase (courtesy of Chuck Behensky via PsychTeacher, 2/15/2010)


I always prefer doing something "live" if possible. I also try to do this before they've read about it in the book. That way, they're less suspicious. I bring a briefcase or computer bag into class, place it at the front of the room (usually on a table or next to the lectern), then leave. Right before class starts, I have a student confederate go into the class, act like they're looking for something, go up and take the bag, then walk out. I'll walk in a couple of minutes late with a bunch of worksheets "fresh" from the copier.


About 10-15 min into the lecture, I'll hand out these worksheets and say something like, "While you guys work on this, I've got a couple of other handouts for today." I'll look for my briefcase, then stop everyone and say, "Has anyone seen my briefcase?" Depending on the response I get, I'll usually add something like, "OK, whoever took my case, just bring it forward, no hard feelings." Gradually, I'll escalate it from there. "Ha ha, joke's on me, just bring it up...I'm not kidding, my phone, keys, and wallet are in that case! My checkbook, my credit cards, I've got a flash drive with all of your grades and all of my work for the semester in there!" This will require a bit of acting on your part to get them to buy into it.

Once I've established that this is an "emergency" I'll ask who saw the person.


Then I'll say, "OK, I'm going to call campus security, but let's at least get a description of the person so I have something to tell them." Sometimes I break them into groups to come up with a description, sometimes we do it as a whole class. I'll tell them to record anything they remember about the person and to update that list as we build the description (note, this doesn't clue them in).


Along the way I'll inject some leading questions, "Wait, he had a baseball cap? Was it red? I thought I saw a guy with a red baseball cap hanging around when I went to copy your worksheets." 


In the end, we'll have a list like the following:

- Male between 5'7" and 6' (thin or average build)

- Baseball cap (either red or dark blue)

- Wearing jeans or black pants (no idea what kind of shoes)

- Wearing either wool pea coat or corduroy jacket (dark color: brown, blue, or black, possibly dark grey)

- May or may not have glasses (definitely not sunglasses)

- Clean-shaven or slight stubble


At this point, I'll disclose that this is all fake (a lot of them will be relieved).


We'll discuss the kind of description they came up with and take a majority vote to determine the final description. Then I'll show them a photo lineup and usually only 40-50% will choose the correct person. We'll end with some discussion on the factors that influenced their description and lineup selection (time between the event and building the description, some students weren't really attending to the original event, the kinds of questions I asked, trying to match the picture with the description instead of their memory of the person, etc.). It's time consuming and you really need to "sell" it or else they won't take it seriously, but it usually ends up being one of their favorite activities of the semester and it gives you a chance to really drive home some of the issues surrounding eyewitnesses.


Details (courtesy of Ron Shapiro, 2/18/2010)


In my Games To Explain Human Factors: Come, Participate, Learn & Have Fun!!! program I have a Details activity in which I: 1) show a participant a Happy Birthday Bandana for a few seconds. (The bandana design contains all sorts of party stuff (cakes, the words happy birthday, presents, hats, streamers, candles) but does not have any balloons); 2) blindfold the participant with the bandana; 3) talk with them about their background or another unrelated topic for a minute or two; 4) ask them to describe the bandana. 


Few, if any, participants describe the bandana completely and correctly (detailing for example how many candles were on the cake).  More often, participants make obvious errors such as not getting all of the colors right.  Fairly frequently participants include balloons in their description.  If the participant does not mention balloons and I go to stage two and ask questions such as what colors are the hats, the happy birthdays and balloons, they will most frequently tell me the color of the balloons.   The same result is obtained from middle school, high school, college, graduate school and professionals who participate in the program.  We then discuss eye witness testimony. 


If you would like to see a photo of the bandana modeled by Esther Cameron, a Junior in Aerospace Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology, as she completes some of the Games activities, you may view the photo album of selected Games activities on SlideShare.


Teachers wishing to obtain a copy of the Games presentation may send an email to DrRonShapiro1981@SigmaXi.Net indicating their name, school, school address, telephone, subjects taught in which they would use the presentation.  Also, the note must include an email address which is confidential (not one subject to disclosure under the freedom of information act) and must accept 6 meg files.



Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.