Using OPL to Illustrate the Concept of Memory

Maureen McCarthy, PhD
Kennesaw State University

APA recently announced availability of the Online Psychology Laboratory or OPL (opl.apa.org) as the first funded psychology entry in the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). Although you may have visited the site, you may still have questions about the best way to use this innovative new teaching resource. This article is the first in a series of articles that will offer suggestions about how you might incorporate OPL into your Introductory Psychology Course.

The OPL Web site offers highly interactive activities that can be used by students who have access to the Internet. These activities are grouped by topic (e.g., abnormal, cognition, social) with several activities that are designed to illustrate principles of memory. One approach for engaging students might include integrating one of many activities that offer an opportunity to discuss memory in the context of forensic psychology, or more specifically, an activity that allows students to consider the validity of eyewitness testimony.

Most introductory texts include a discussion of reconstructive memory when describing memory and perception. Explanations typically address factors that are influential in the recording of memories, including the likelihood that memories are almost always flawed. Memories are reconstructed. Recall of an event, or memory of the event, can be influenced by the circumstances under which the person witnessed the information and/or the framing of questions in a courtroom. (Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart & Roy, 2003; Weiten, 2003). Despite the reported fallibility of memory, juries are frequently convinced that a witness, who reports information in significant detail, must be accurate in his/her recall of the event. Thus, not taking fallibility of memory into account has resulted in false convictions of innocent people.

Students can experience the role of evaluating eyewitness testimony by participating in an activity designed to illustrate this concept. The Be A Juror study contained in OPL offers a simulation of the classic experiment, originally conducted by Loftus (1979), which demonstrated how juries value eyewitness testimony despite the cautions about the fallibility of memory. In this online activity, students are randomly assigned to one of three conditions in which they read a scenario that describes a defendant trying to vindicate himself under one of the following conditions: 1) no eyewitness; 2) an unrefuted eyewitness; or 3) a discredited eyewitness. After reading the scenario, the student must rate the defendant's level of guilt. Students can participate in this activity in class, as a homework assignment, or if you are teaching online, you can assign students to participate in this activity as a requirement of the course.

This activity allows students to simulate the original findings of the Loftus study. After an instructor registers a course at OPL, students can enter the study and their data will be recorded specifically for the section that the faculty member has designated. Students indicate which class they are enrolled in, then they participate in the activity, and, at the conclusion of the activity, they are provided a participation number, thus providing a mechanism for tracking student participation. After all students have completed the study, results can be downloaded in raw data or graph format to illustrate the phenomenon. In this case, the graph illustrates the average level of guilt for each of the three conditions. Results for this activity should indicate that the level of perceived guilt is higher for the two conditions that include an eyewitness, even if the eyewitness is not credible. In other words, a defendant is more likely to be perceived as guilty even if the eyewitness provides inaccurate information. The graph depicts the actual data from students' participation, and this can help to increase the validity of the concepts that are discussed in the memory section of introductory psychology.

Offering students the opportunity to participate in this activity increases interest in the concepts of perception and memory. Not only do they participate in the activity, but they have the experience of judging the importance of an eyewitness and participating in a popular activity that is related to forensic psychology.

References

					
Bernstein, D. A., Penner, L. A., Clarke-Stewart, A., & Roy, E. J. (2003). Psychology. Boston, 
	MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Loftus, E. F. (1979). Eyewitness Testimony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weiten, W. (2004). Psychology: Themes and Variations (6th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA:   
	Thompson/Wadsworth.