(Originally published, August 2005)
Here's a quick jolt that helps participants discover basic psychological facts about our memory.
You can conduct this jolt with any number of people in about 5 minutes. You don't need any special supplies other than paper and pencil.
Brief participants. Tell them that you are going to administer a memory test. You will read a standardized list of words. Participants should listen carefully to these words without writing them down. Later, you will test to see how many words each participant can recall.
Present words. Read the following list of words. Pause briefly between one word and the next. Do not change the sequence. One of the words (night) is repeated three times.
Administer the recall test. Pause for about 10 seconds. Ask each participant to take a piece of paper and write as many of the words as he or she can remember. Pause for about 40 seconds.
Explain your intent. Reassure participants that you are not interested in finding out how each person performed on the test. Instead, you are going to use the test to explore four basic principles about memory.
Debrief. Here are four important principles about memory. Explain each of them, using data from participants' performance on the test:
- Primacy and recency effects. Ask participants to raise their hands if they recalled the words “dream” and “pillow”. Explain that people remember the first and the last things in a series. Most participants will have written dream and pillow because they were the first and last words in the list.
- Surprise effect. Ask participants to raise their hands if they recalled the word “artichoke”. Explain that people remember things that are novel or different. Most participants will have written artichoke because it is different from the other words in the list.
- Repetition effect. Ask participants to raise their hands if they recalled the word “night”. Explain that people remember things that are repeated. Most participants will have written night because you repeated it three times.
- False-memory effect. Ask participants to raise their hands if they recalled the word “bed”. Reveal that this word was not on your list. Explain that the brain closes logical gaps in what it hears, sees, or reads, frequently remembering things that did not take place. Most participants will have written bed because it logically belongs to this list (even though you never read it).
Encourage action planning. Ask participants how they would use these four principles to help them remember new terms and ideas in the training session. Give examples such as, "To compensate for the primacy and the recency effects, pay particular attention to ideas presented during the middle of the training session. Make use of the repetition effect by repeating these ideas to yourself several times."