BT Young Scientist of the Year

Saturday 20 September 2014

Students' experiment exposes effects of distractions on memory

Caoimhe O’Maonaigh (17), left, and Camilla Kelly (16)

Two students fascinated with human memory have shown that outside influences, such as a person distracting us by talking, can affect how much our brain remembers.

Caoimhe O’Maonaigh (17) and Camilla Kelly (16) from Rathdown School in Dublin carried out visual tests on people by asking them to remember specific images.

‘‘It’s basically about the alteration of memory and how outside influences and suggestions can actually change what you think you remember,’’ Camilla explained.

‘‘We showed them a picture on a overhead screen and told them to remember it.

‘‘Then while we were talking and during their questioning of it, we would change slight details,’’ said Aoife.

Based on the answers the participants gave, the girls could determine whether they were distracted by the talking and noticed the slight change in the picture.

‘‘We wanted to determine just how much they were influenced by outside sources,’’ she added.

The girls found that the majority of those tested did not notice the change and were distracted by the influences around them.

 ‘‘We really wanted to do something that we could adapt to real life because we would be more interested in the social sciences like behavioural.

‘‘Memory is such a reliable thing in day to day so we wanted to see how accurate it actually is and see if we can change what people think and remember, based on how people influence around them,’’ said Aoife.

The pair used friends, family and schoolmates to test out the experiment.

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