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Neuroscience For Kids

Memory Experiments

Here are some experiments and games to test your memory. Also, don't forget that there are some memory tricks and techniques at the end of this section!

On-line Short Term Memory Games

Grades K-12

Think you have a good memory? Then take this little Short Term Memory Test. Also, test your memory for pictures with this Short Term Memory Picture Game

On-line "Simon Says" Memory Games

Grades K-12

Simon says, "Play These Games!" to test your memory. Both SIMON games require that your browser is "JAVA-enabled."

Try Game 1 with and without sound. Do you do better with the sound on or with the sound off?

Face Memory Test

Grades K-12

How good is your memory for faces? Find out with the Face Memory Test.

There are two versions of the test:

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Grades K-6

Let's test short term memory. Get a tray or a large plate. (The kind of trays from the cafeteria work well). Put 10 to 20 objects on the tray, then cover them with a towel or cloth. Tell your subjects that you have a number of objects on the tray and that you want them to remember as many items as possible. Also tell them that they will have only one minute to view them. Then take off the cover from the tray and start timing one minute. After one minute, cover up the tray. Have your subjects write down all the items that they can remember. Could they remember all of the items? Are there any items that were forgotten by all the subjects? Teach your subjects some of the memory techniques (see below) and repeat the experiment.


What's Missing

Grades K-6

This experiment is a variation of the previous experiment to test short term memory. Get your tray and items and cloth ready again. This time have you subjects view the items for 1 minute. Then cover the tray again. Without the subjects seeing, REMOVE 1 item from the tray. Show the tray and remaining items to your subjects again. Ask them, "What is missing?". Can they guess what you removed?


Who's Missing

Grades K-6

Think you know your classmates? Let's see how good your memory for them really is. Have one student leave the room. While this student is out of the room, have another student hide. Then bring the first student back into the room. Can this student name the student who is missing?


Classroom Mix-up

Grades K-6

This game is a bit like "Who's Missing". This time a few students or the whole class can test their memory at the same time. Tell everyone to take a good look around the classroom. Ask them to remember where objects are located in the room. Then send a few students out of the room while you change the location of various objects in the class. You could also do this while the students are at recess or lunch. When the students come back into the classroom, ask them to write down all of the things that have changed. Make sure you keep a list of all the things that you have changed!


Everyday Memory

Grades 3-12

Go to the Exploratorium to see if you remember what this common everyday object really looks like. What can it be? What can it be?

This experiment is based on a study by Nickerson, R.S. and Adams, M.J. titled "Long-term memory for a common object," Cognitive Psychology, 11:297-307, 1979.

Eyewitness Game

Grades 3-12

Have you ever been an eyewitness to a crime? Is your memory of the crime the same as other people's recollection? Here is a way to explore eyewitness memory. Plan to have someone (a teacher or a student) come into your class. Let's call this person, "X". X should plan on doing several things in class such as:

Before X comes into the room, have all of the students working or reading at their desks. When X comes into the room, most of the students will be curious about what he or she is doing. After X leaves the room, have the students write down all the things that happened. (You can do this immediately after X leaves or sometime later). Once everyone has finished writing, find out what everyone remembers and what they did not.

What details do they recall? What did X wear? How long was X in the room? What book did X take? Who did X talk to? What did X say? You may even ask some leading questions to influence memory. For example, if X was not wearing a hat, ask, "What color hat was X wearing?". Compare how everyone's memory was the same and different.


False Memories

Grades 3-12

Sometimes your brain makes up its own memories. Try to "implant" a memory by asking people to remember the words on list 1. Wait about five minutes, then probe their memory by asking them which words on list 2 they remember.

List 1: read, pages, letters, school, study, reading, stories, sheets, cover, pen, pencil, magazine, paper, words

List 2: house, pencil, apple, shoe, book, flag, rock, train, ocean, hill, music, water, glass, school

Did they say that "book" was on list 1? Only pencil and school were on list 1.

Try these words:

List 1: sheets, pillow, mattress, blanket, comfortable, room, dream, lay, chair, rest, tired, night, dark, time

List 2: door, tree, eye, song, pillow, juice, orange, radio, rain, car, sleep, cat, dream, eat

Did they say that "sleep" was on list 1? Only pillow and dream were on list 1.

Make up your own lists and see if you can create a false memory.



Grades K-12

Have you played the "game of concentration?" Get a deck of playing cards (cards with pictures work well too). Get 15 matched pairs of a total of 30 cards. Mix up the 30 cards and then arrange them FACE DOWN in a 6 by 5 grid. Play starts by having one player turn over 2 cards. If the number or picture of the 2 cards is the same, the player picks up these 2 cards and turns over 2 more. If the 2 cards are not the same, the cards are turned back face down in the same place they were and it is the next player's turn. The object of the game is to remember where similar cards are located and to pick up as many pairs as possible. The winner of the game is the one who has the most cards at the end of the game. To make the game more difficult, use the whole deck of cards (26 matched pairs).


On-line Brain Concentration Game and Sensory Concentration Game

Grades K-12

Test your memory with this on-line concentration game by locating the matching brains of different animals and matching the senses. These games require that your browser is "JAVA-enabled."



The Memory Game

Grades 3-12

How good is your memory? I will present you with a table of 25 different objects. Look at them for 30 seconds, then close the object window to return to this page. Then write down all the objects that you can remember.

Here are the 25 objects.

How did you do? How many did you remember? Try some of the memory techniques (see below) and see if you do better.


There's a Chunk

Grades 3-12

Does this chunking really work? Find out. Get a partner. Tell your partner that you are going to read some numbers and you want him or her to remember as many as possible. Don't tell your partner how many numbers or what range they will be in. Read these numbers in the following order at a rate of about 1 every second:

9 1 5 11 2 4 6 15 10 3 7 13 12 8 14

Immediately ask your partner to write down the numbers he or she remembers. Now tell your partner that you will read another set of numbers and you want him or her to remember them. Read these numbers in the following order at a rate of about 1 every second:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Immediately ask your partner to write down the numbers he or she remembers. Was the second time easier? Did your partner remember more numbers the second time? Both sets of numbers are exactly the is just that the second one can really be "chunked" into series of numbers that is easy to remember.

More memory tricks and mnemonics from "Mind Tools"

A Trip to Memory Market

Grades K-6

Write a story about a trip to the grocery store. In the story include many food items (10-20 items) that you bought. Read your story to the class and see how many items they can remember. Use the memory tricks and tips (see below) to increase the number of items that can be remembered.


Phone It!

Grades K-6

Look up a random phone number in the phone book. Take about one minute to memorize the phone number. Can you remember it 5 minutes later? 1 hour later? 6 hours later? The next day?


Grocery Store

Grades K-6

Here is another grocery store game, called "Grocery Store" how original).

Get everyone together. The first player starts the grocery list by saying "I went to the grocery story and bought some ____." The player should fill in the blank with an item from the grocery store. For example, the player could say "I went to the grocery story and bought some apples." The next player must repeat the list and add a second item. For example, the second player can say, "I went to the grocery store and bought some apples and a bag of potato chips." The third player must create a list using apples, bag of chips and add a third item. The game continues until someone forgets one of the items.


Now or Later - The "Recency/Primary" Effect

Grades 6-12

Here is a memory experiment that requires a group of subjects to test. Get 5 or more friends to serve as your experimental subjects. Tell them that you will read a list of 20 words and that their job is to remember as many of the words as possible. Read the following list of 20 words at a rate of 1 word every second. Ask your subjects to write down the words that they can remember immediately after you finish reading the list.

Here is the list of words:

cat apple ball tree square head house door box car king hammer milk fish book tape arrow flower key shoe

Now analyze the results of your memory study. You can collect the lists of words that your subjects wrote or you can just ask them which words that they remembered.

To do this assign a "position" to each word that you read. So, "cat" was word #1, apple was word #2, ball was word #3,....,shoe was word #20. Calculate the percent of recall for each word. For example, if you had 10 subjects and 7 of them remembered the word "cat", then "cat" (word #1) had a percent recall of 70%. Calculate the percent of recall for each of the 20 words.

Now plot your results: the X-axis will be word position and the Y-axis will be % recall. Do you see a pattern? Does is look anything at all like this figure?:

The results of this kind of experiment usually result in a graph similar to this one. This kind of graph is called a "serial-position curve." Words read first and words read last are remembered better than words read in the middle of a list.

This type of experiment provides evidence that there are 2 types of memory processes. It is thought that memory is good for the words read last because they are still in short term memory - this is the recency effect. Memory is good for the words read first because they made it into long term memory - this is the primacy effect.

It is also possible that some words in the list were very easy to recall for other reasons. For example, if your teacher just dropped a hammer on his or her toe, then everyone may find that the word "hammer" was easy to remember. Or perhaps, the last name of someone in the group of subjects is "King", then everyone would remember the word "king".

You can try this experiment again with a slight twist. Ask a new set of subjects to remember the same set of words. However, immediately after you finish reading the list, DISTRACT your subjects by having them count backwards from 100 by threes (100, 97, 94, 91, etc) for about 15-30 seconds. Plot your serial position curve again. Do you see any changes? Usually, distraction causes people to forget the words at the end of the list. Did it happen to your subjects?

A Head for Numbers

Grades 1-12

Can you remember a long string of numbers? Try this game with a group of people. The first person says a one digit number; the next person says this first number and adds another number; the third person says the first and second numbers and adds a third number; the fourth person repeats the first three numbers and adds a fourth number. The game continues until someone forgets one of the numbers in the string. Of course, one person needs to be the recorder who keeps track of the numbers and stops the game when a number is forgotten.

Concrete Words, Abstract Words and Just Plain Nonsense

Grades 6-12

The ability to recall a word depends on how meaningful the word is to a person. Along with the meaningfulness of a word, the "concreteness" of a word is important for memory. Concreteness refers the ability of a word to form a mental image. A word with high concreteness is easy to "see"; a word with low concreteness (an "abstract" word) is difficult to visualize.

Here are three lists of words: concrete words, abstract words and nonsense words. See which list is easier to memorize. You could also read these lists to other people to see how many words from each list they remember.

Concrete Words

alligator - apple - arrow - baby - bird - book - butterfly - car - corn - flower - hammer - house - money - microscope - ocean - pencil - rock - shoes - table - window

Abstract Words

anger - belief - boredom - chance - concept - effort - fate - freedom - glory - happiness - honor - hope - idea - interest - knowledge - mercy - mood - moral - theory - truth

Nonsense Words

ator - botam - crov - difim - firap - glimoc - ricul- hilnim - jolib - kepwin - leptav - lumal - mib - natpem - peyrim - rispaw - stiwin - tubiv - vopec - yapib

The concrete words and abstract words were scored as having high and low concreteness, respectively, in a paper by A. Paivio, J.C. Yuille and S.A. Madigan, Concreteness, imagery, and meaningfulness values for 925 nouns, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Monograph Suppl., vol. 76, no.1, part 2, pages 1-25, 1968.

Memory Methods and Techniques

After you learn some of these methods, try to memorize a list of words. See if you can remember the list the next day. How many can you remember the next week!

Technique 1: Visualize It! - Visualization

When you have an item to remember, "see" it in your mind. The more absurd you make the image the more likely you are to remember it. For example, if you go to the mall and park the car on the level C in space #5, you might imagine that there are 5 Cats waiting in your car for your return. The Cats is for the level "C"; the 5 of course is for the space #5.

Technique 2: Chain It! - Chaining

Chaining is a form of visualizing, but now you might have to remember several items in order. This time you must link the items together by thinking of images that connect them. While a grocery list does not necessarily have to be remembered in order (although it sometimes helps to find things faster), let's use it as an example: milk, bread, eggs, cheese, orange juice. Now, chain them with images:


Here is a longer list of words to try:

shoe - piano - tree - pencil - bird - bus - book - dog - pizza - flower - basketball - door - TV - rabbit - spoon - eye - chair - house - computer - rock

You may find that bizarre and wild associations are easy to remember. Here is an example of chaining for the first three words (shoe - piano - tree) of this list.

Technique 3: Place It! - The Method of Loci

Location, Location, Location. Devised during the Roman Empire, the method of loci uses the chaining method with a twist. Now all the items to-be-remembered are linked to specific places in the order you would visit them. For example, you might think of the route you take to school:

Now you must link the items that you want remembered to each of these places. You have to remember the places first, of course, but this should be easy. Then chain each item to the places...remember, the more wild your idea the better. Using the grocery store example again: milk pouring on you in your room, bread that you can't get out of the toaster (kitchen), eggs splattered on your front door, etc.

Technique 4: Chunk It! - Chunking

Ever wonder why phone numbers are really one 3 digit number and one 4 digit number and NOT one 7 digit number. It's 999-9999, not 9999999. Or what about those social security numbers. It's 999-99-9999, not 999999999. They are a lot easy to remember in small chunks. Remembering things is easier when they are in pieces.

Technique 5: Acrostic It! - Those Catchy Phrases

An acrostic is a phrase that uses the first letter of a word to remember it. In neuroanatomy, one of the most familiar ones is:

On Old Olympus Towering Top A Famous Vocal German Viewed Some Hops.

"What does this mean", you ask. Well, the first letters of each of these words in this little phrase stand for the first letters of each of the cranial nerves, in order:

Olfactory nerve (I), Optic nerve (II), Oculomotor nerve (III), Trochlear nerve (IV), Trigeminal nerve (V), Abducens nerve (VI), Facial nerve (VII), Vestibulocochlear (VIII), Glossopharyngeal nerve (IX), Vagus nerve (X), Spinal accessory nerve (XI), Hypoglossal nerve (XII).

Here's another one:

My Very Early Morning Jam Sandwich Usually Nauseates People


My Very Excellent Mom Just Served Us Nine Pizzas

These two phrases represent the order of planets from the Sun:

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto

One last you know the order of colors in a rainbow? Just remember this person's name: Roy G. Biv

R=red; O=orange Y=yellow G=green B=blue; I=indigo V=violet


Simply "A-maze-ing"

Grades K-6

Let's see if we can demonstrate some fast learning.

Print out (or download) any of these mazes:

(Click on the maze, then "save" the big maze or just print it out). Get at least 3 copies of each maze. When you have the maze, have a friend keep track of the amount of time it takes you to complete the maze...go from "START" to "FINISH" on the maze. Record the amount of time it takes you. Then, do the SAME maze over again on a new copy of the same maze. Record the amount of time it takes you to complete it. Then do it a third time and even a fourth time if you want. Does it take you less time to complete the maze on the second, third and fourth time? I hope are learning!! By the way, you could do this same experiment with a jigsaw puzzle.


The Space Place

Grades 3-12

This experiment involves BOTH memory and learning. Get a small object like a ball, book, block or even a crumpled up piece of paper. Put a blindfold on your subject. Place the small object on the floor about 10 feet away from your subject, but don't tell your subject where it is. Tell your subject that he or she must find the object on the floor when you say "GO". When you do say "GO", start a stopwatch and measure the amount of time it takes your subject to find the object. Don't let your subject get too far away from the object and don't let your subject bump into anything dangerous, but let your subject find the object without too much help. Once your subject has found the object, stop the stopwatch and record the amount of time it took to find the object.

Repeat your experiment with the same subject. Bring your subject back to the exact same spot where you started and place the object in the exact same spot as it was the first time. Say, "GO" and start your stopwatch again. Did your subject take less time to find the object? You may want to repeat the test several more times and plot the amount of time it took to find the object for the different times you ran the test. Do you see a decrease in the amount of time to find the object in later tests? What would happen if you tested the same subject the next day?


Concentration Game - Learning

Grades 3-12

Have one person (the "setter") set up matched pairs of playing card like in the concentration game. Have this person "map" where each of the cards was located at the start of the game. Have another person (the player) play the concentration game as fast as he can. Time how long it takes the player to finish the game. Record the time. Have the setter, use the map and place the cards back in their original positions. So the cards will be in exactly the same locations for the second game. Have the player match the cards again and record the time. Reset the cards and play again. Play a few more times...does the time it takes to finish the game get shorter?


Shape Up!

Grades 3-12

Have you ever wondered how they train animals to do tricks in the circus or on TV? One way that trainers teach animals to learn new things is through a method called shaping. This technique involves reinforcing each behavior that looks like the final act you want. In other words, the trainer gives the animal a treat each time the animal does something that looks like the final behavior.

Now it's your turn to shape a friend. First, get a collection of "treats"...these could be little candies or pennies or buttons. Without telling your friend the exact behavior you would like to see, just say that you will give him or her a treat when they do the right thing. The FINAL right thing may be to turn off a light or pick up a pencil or open a book.

Let's say the final behavior you are looking for is to have your friend turn off a light. Start giving treats when your friend gets up. Give another when your friend starts to walk. Give another one when your friend gets close to the light. Give another when your friend touches the light. Give another when your friend turns off the light. Do not give treats for behaviors that are not related to turning off the light.

You can shape almost any behavior as long as your friend is interested in getting the treat.

Motor Learning

Grades 3-12

Use this easy-to-build device to test motor learning. It's like the old "operation" game. Follow the diagram below to build the wire maze. Your wire maze must be a material that is electrically conductive. A coat hanger works as long as it does not have any paint on it. Attach a loop of a hanger to a wire, then attach the wire to the battery. Attach the battery (9 volt) to the buzzer (or light) using wire. Attach the buzzer to the wire maze using more wire.

Thread the loop of the metal hanger through the wire maze. Measure the time it takes to get from one end of the maze to the other. Also count the number of errors (buzzes) during each trial. Go through the maze several times and plot the amount of time and number of errors vs. the trial number on a graph.


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