Submitted by Matthew Schulkind on Tuesday, 1/5/2010, at 9:18 PM

About 20 years ago, Ulric Neisser presented an embarrassing challenge to cognitive psychology (see course quote).  Throughout the course, we will see many attempts to answer Neisser's charge.  The written assignments for the course will provide you with an opportunity to do the same.  I would like you to identify an 'interesting or socially significant aspect of memory' and propose an experiment that will answer an important question related to this topic.  Your paper should follow APA format. Links to relevant APA style guides are available in the menu on the left.  You will complete the assignment in two steps, as follows:

Paper #1 – Literature Review and Proposal: (15% of your semester grade)
For the first written assignment, you will write a literature review that will form the Introduction of your final paper.  Describe the literature on your selected topic including why you think it is interesting or socially significant.  Your discussion should describe related research in the field, its strengths and weaknesses.  You should end your literature review by proposing a novel theoretical question and outlining an experiment to address that question.  Pay particular attention to the THEORETICAL significance of your proposed experiment. For example, you might think that people will remember more information if they are not distracted.  The problem with proposing this study is that it does not tell us anything interesting about memory and how it functions.  In contrast, if you were to show that distraction affects older adults more than it affects younger adults, we might learn something about the nature of age-related changes in memory (needless to say this result is well documented in the literature and would not make a good topic for your paper).  The goal is to make sure that the results of whatever experiment you propose address a theoretical issue that extends beyond the particular set of variables that you manipulate in your experiment.  You are welcome to use a methodology that is described in another paper as long as it answers a new theoretical question.  In fact, it might be a good idea to build on an experiment in the literature because most scientific progress occurs when one researchers extends the ideas or experiments of another.  If you have questions about what might or might not constitute a suitable topic of your paper, come talk to me.  To repeat, an APA style guide for this paper assignment (i.e., the literature review) is available online.  Approximate length: 4-6 pages

Final Paper – Revision and Experiment: (25% of your semester grade)
The final paper will have two components. First, you will revise the introduction that your wrote for Paper #1 in light of my comments and any additional thinking/research that you do. You should not merely correct spelling and grammar errors and turn your introduction back in. You should re-consider the substance of the literature review, your interpretation of previous work and the argument you are trying to build, as well.
Second, you will describe the design and predicted results of the experiment that you proposed at the end of your first paper (of course, the experiment that you originally proposed is subject to revision, too). You will present the experiment in an APA style report with three sections appended to your revised introduction. These sections are described below; you can consult the APA style guide for research proposals for more information on each section.

Methods -

  • Who will participate in your experiment?: Older adults? Younger adults? Kids?  Men?  Women?  Space aliens?  Depressed people?  Depressed space aliens? 
  • What will your stimuli be? Music…words…pictures…stories?
  • What will your subjects do in the experiment? Recall…recognition…implicit?
  • Remember: it is OK to use a methodology that is described in another paper as long as it answers a new theoretical question.

Predicted Results -

  • What do you think the results of your experiment will be and why?  Presenting graphs and our tables of expected results will probably be helpful. These can be produced electronically or by hand.  You do not have to make up data for individual subjects.  Group averages are sufficient and even these don’t have to be numerical; qualitative descriptions are fine (e.g., this group would score high, this group would score low, and this group would score somewhere in the middle).

Discussion -

  • In the last section of your paper, I want you to describe what your paper tells us about memory and/or cognition in general. How does your experiment expand our knowledge of the subject? What if any would be the limitations of the study, and how might future work overcome these limitations? Your discussion MUST also acknowledge the tension between everyday and laboratory research. Which approach did you choose to pursue? Why did you make that choice? How might a proponent of the other approach critique your work? Why is your experiment still important/valuable in light of these criticisms?

Approximate length: 10-12 pages (this includes the revised introduction)

Note: If you have an idea relatively early in the semester, you may - in consultation with me - choose to implement your study. I will provide advice on collecting and analyzing the data if you choose this option.