Eye Witness, You Witness
Difficulty of Project
Materials are readily available.
Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project
8 hours. Two weeks total elapsed time.
Eyewitness, You Witness: How well can people recall an event that they witnessed? Gather some people for this experiment and test their powers of recall.
Materials and Equipment / Ingredients
- TV Show or movie (DVD or streaming)
- TV/DVD or computer to show program
- Room large enough to hold 10+ people
- Pens or pencils
- 20 subjects – people on whom you will test this experiment
- 1 helper
In this project, you will be testing people’s power of observation. In real life, eyewitness testimony is used help prove whether people are guilty or innocent. In a school setting, this might be a question of who started a fight or who spilled food in a cafeteria. For adults, eyewitnesses can help the police decide who caused a car accident or who robbed a house. If witnesses are involved, then it is important to know how accurate they are. Should you rely on them if you’re deciding something important, such as who should go to jail for committing a crime?
How accurate are witnesses? How much do people remember seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or feeling right after an event occurs? How much do people remember days after an event takes place? Researchers have studied human memory. They have found that people often remember events incorrectly. For example, people might remember details that did not occur, especially if someone else mentions those details, too.
Now it’s time for you to be the researcher. You will design an experiment to help you answer these questions. You will give people an ordinary task to do, like watching a movie. In the middle of this task, you will have an event take place, like a person bringing in popcorn. Without being prompted to try to remember exact details, how much will your witnesses be able to recall?
- How many details will people recall immediately after an event happens?
- After two weeks, what will people still recall?
- Is 20 people an appropriate sample size, in terms of number of subjects?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
In this science project, you will learn about your subjects’ ability to recall details of an event. They will provide eyewitness testimony. You will ask the subjects to answer five objective questions and check their answers. You will gather your witnesses again two weeks later, and retest their memory, to see if it has changed. Make a chart to visually demonstrate what percentage of questions people were able to answer correctly. You will use a sample size of twenty people for this experiment.
- Subjects: A person whom a researcher is studying as part of an experiment.
- Eyewitness: A person who actually sees or hears some act and can give a firsthand account of it.
- Testimony: A statement that a witness makes, often in a court of law.
- Objective: An objective question is one where the answer is based on facts, and is not influenced by a person’s feelings or experiences. For instance, let’s say your helper in this experiment is wearing a green shirt. If you ask what color is the helper’s shirt, that is an objective question. Green is the right answer, and all other answers are wrong. If you ask if the subject liked the color of the shirt, that question is subjective. There is no right or wrong answer, so that is not a good question to use for this experiment.
- Sample Size: The number of observations that a researcher makes while conducting his or her experiment. In this case, the sample size is the number of people tested.