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Memory Exploration Activities

The three activities below will help you better understand some of your memory processes, especially the often-misunderstood short-term memory, memory improvement techniques and problems with eyewitness memory.

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Complete the all three demonstrations in the following steps:

Step 1:

Short-term Memory Capacity Demonstration

Many people who have not had a psychology class mistakenly believe short-term memory involves information learned in the past few days or weeks (for example, cramming for an exam).   This is not so, using the definition for short-term memory used by psychologists.  Short-term memory functions to hold information either (1) just long enough to use it, as in remembering a phone number from the directory just long enough to dial it,  — or — (2) just long enough to process it into the deeper levels of long-term memory.  Also, short-term memory generally holds only about 7 bits (+/-2) at a time, and only holds information for up to about 20 – 30 seconds if the information is not continually rehearsed.  Because the phrase “short-term memory” may lead others to focus on time dimensions of memory rather than function, many cognitive psychologists prefer the term “working memory” over the original, but confusing term “short-term memory.”

The short-term memory capacity test is designed to demonstrate that short-term memory is quite limited in how much information it can hold at one time.  It’s a simple test.  Just follow the instructions provided in the linked website.  There are six brief, timed capacity tests.  The first test contains only two letters, but each successive test adds two additional letters until you reach test 6 which contains twelve letters.

As you complete the test, make note of your results as you’ll need them to complete the discussion questions in Step 4 below.

When you’re ready, click the link below:

Step 2:

Memory Improvement Demonstration

Many students who take this course often ask what can be done to improve memory.  Memory improvement can be achieved first and foremost by simply becoming more aware of memory process, how the work and why memory fails.  Generally speaking, memory can be improved by active rehearsal, visualization techniques, cross categorizing memories, making important newly encoded memories as novel (or weirdly unusual) as possible, and by encoding new memories by relating them to your life experiences.

The activities in this demonstration are designed to illustrate two common memory improvement techniques including mental storytelling and creative visualization.

Complete all three parts of the demonstration including (1) Memory Solitaire, (2) Tell Yourself a Story, and (3) Walk Around the House.  Just follow the instructions and you will be taking from page to page as you complete the demonstrations.

NOTE:  This site is designed for approximately middle school age learners.  So if you’re insulted by the simplistic language, don’t be.  No offense is intended to you as a college student.

ALSO, since these demos are geared toward young learners, I would strongly suggest when you take each memory test, that you reduce the given 2 minute time limit to 1 minute (or even 30 seconds) in order to make the test a little more challenging to you as an adult participant.

When you’re ready, click the link below: 

Step 3:

Eyewitness Memory Demonstration

Imagine you’re an eyewitness to an armed robbery in a convenience store.  Later, when the police arrive, you’re going to be able to simply rewind the videotape in your head and tell the investigating officers explicit details of the event and give an accurate description of the robber, right?!  While many believe eyewitness (or “episodic”) long-term memory to be like a videotape, research conducted over the last 40 years has suggested otherwise.

A couple of years ago, in the State of Texas, a man was executed after being found guilty for murdering a grocery store manager.  The only substantive evidence for conviction was the “eyewitness” testimony of an elderly woman who claimed to have seen the defendant shoot the store manager while sitting in her car parked in front of the store, looking through her car windshield, and through the glass windows of the grocery story, when she observed the shooting.  Based on the testimony of this witness, who observed the shooting while looking through two pieces of glass into a dimly lit storefront, the defendant was convicted and put to death.  On that day, memory researchers all over this country winced.  This is not to suggest that the defendant was, in fact, innocent, but rather to draw attention to the fact that 40 years of experimental research into eyewitness memory recollections have consistently shown that episodic recall is generally quite flawed and inaccurate.

This demonstration will help you get a feel for research into eyewitness recollections of events.

After you complete the demonstration linked above, click here and read this brief article on Gary Well’s website as it contains information you’ll need to answer the discussion questions below:

You will need Adobe Reader to access this article.


Step 4:

After completing each activity, answer the following questions.

Short-term Memory Capacity Questions:

1. List your results from each of the six tests included in this activity.

2. Based on what you’ve learned in the introduction to this activity, what are the “expected” results for this activity?

3. Compare your results to the expected results.  How are they similar or different?  Explain.

4. Explain what you learned about your memory from completing this activity.

Memory Improvement Questions:

1. Did you reduce the time limit for this test as suggested?  If so, to what limit?

2. State your results from the Memory Solitaire test.

3. State your results from the Tell Yourself a Story test.

4. State your results from the Walk Around the House test.

5. Which of the two improvement techniques worked the best for you, or did you like the best?  Explain.

6. Explain what you learned about your memory from completing this activity.

Eyewitness Memory Questions:

1. Did you identify the correct suspect?  Explain.

2. Based on your reading of the article, explain what Gary Wells and other researchers believe is the main problem when it comes to subjects identifying an assailant from a line-up.  What are some additional procedural problems that interfere with accurate eyewitness identification?

3. Based on your reading of the Newsday article hosted on the Professor Wells’ website, explain what might be done in order to reduce problems, and increase accuracy of eyewitness identification of criminal suspects.

4. Any additional comments for any of the three demonstrations?

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