Following the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines
For this experiment, I am testing the theory that sleep deprivation will weaken the mind’s ability to recall certain words, inhibit word association, and disrupt the ability to recall whole phrases. I am conducting this experiment because the general way the mind works has always fascinated me but I have had a particular interest in memory, especially in terms of what weakens it. It is well known that old age can weaken the memory, but I have interest in other areas of life that can weaken the memory, such as stress, trauma, and sleep deprivation. Because I am not equipped, qualified, or in an ethical position to put a test subjects in a position of stress or trauma, I have chosen sleep deprivation. Prior to this study, I have observed in myself and others, that when deprived of sleep, humans have a more difficult time functioning overall, especially in areas of memory. Basic functions of memory, such as where a person left their car keys, or if they have eaten lunch that day, become a struggle to remember. These observations confirm my theory. Research regarding how students should go about taking tests also supports my theory. It is recommended that students get plenty of sleep before a test, and plenty of sleep before studying; sleep replenishes energy, allowing the individual to retain more, and recall more information. A sleep-deprived student may not perform as well on a test because they do not remember what they studied.
I conducted the study in my home, during a sleepover. The participants were my friends; there were five of them. While it may have seemed like a good excuse to get together and goof around, I assure it was all in the name of psychological study. The study was conducted easily enough. I used material from our text and the bible in an effort to get a random sample for word association. Each participant was asked to memorize ten different sentences in the week leading up to the night of the study. The passages from the Bible were as follows: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Prov 3:5),” “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8),” “Not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:9),” “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet 5:7),” and,” Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (Jas 1:2).” The words, chosen for word association, chosen from the text were “Proximate Explanation,” “Social Cognition,” “Sociocultural Perspective,” “Societal Differences,” and, “Classically Conditioned .”
Three of the participants would be asked to stay up six hours past their usual bedtime while the other two would be go to sleep at their normal bedtime, and be woken up every hour. This manipulation was constructed to understand whether sleep truly had a hand in memory or not. Each individual would be asked the same questions concerning word memory. If the question concerned a bible verse, the individual would have to fill in one or multiple blanks in order to complete the verse. If the question regarded one of the short phrases taken from the textbook, the individual would simply have to recall the second word in the short series. Based on how many blanks each individual scored as incorrect, and whether they were in group A, the sleep deprived group, or group B, the group that was awoken, I hoped to be able to devise whether sleep was impacting the memory of my participants.
During the first session, each participant got every blank question correct, as expected. Nobody was sleep deprived, discounting the full day everybody had experienced. After this, group B settled for their usual night of rest, while group A was forced to stay awake. An hour later, group B was awoken and everybody was given the same questions again. The blanks regarding the textbook were all answered correctly but a few of the blanks concerning the longer bible verses were answered incorrectly by one of the participants in group A. During the third session, the participants were given the same questions, but in a different order. Again, the questions concerning the textbook were all answered correctly and the individuals in group B answered all but three blanks correctly about the bible verses. Group A, however, did not do as well. All three participants missed nearly half of the questions about the Bible verse material. The fourth session was similar for group B, with one participant missing three questions about the bible verse passages. Group A missed nearly all of the blanks about the bible verses and one participant missed three of the questions concerning the textbook material. The fifth set of questions was given in a different order again and group A only got four of the blanks correct. Group B suffered as well, only getting four of the bible verse blanks correct and missing three of the textbook material blanks. The sixth and seventh rounds were uncompleted because group A fell asleep, unable to be roused, and the experiment was unable to carry on.
I found that sleep deprivation does, in fact affect memory. However, because the order of the questions was switched twice, it appeared that sleep deprivation had more of an impact on memory itself, than the act of memorization. Once the order of the questions was disorganized, there was a more difficult struggle within both groups to remember the correct answers for each blank, suggesting that they did not remember the correct answers based on material, but had simply memorized the order of the answers in which they were to be written. This can be said for group A and B, because even group B began getting answers wrong after the second time the questions were disorganized, despite the fact that they had been allowed to sleep.
Several limitations existed within my study. To begin with, I do not have a lab or equipment. I have a pen, paper, and a computer. I also do not have an infinite number of participants. Five is not a good sample number to perform an experiment. Ideally, I would have liked to use at least 100 people for an experiment such as this and I would have liked the tests to be more rigorous. Instead of the exercises only concerning fill-in-the-blank options, they could have been interactive, or they could have involved the participant assigning a word that did not relate to a corresponding picture, then remembering which word they assigned to the picture later. There are many different exercises involving word memory that could have been used but in order to do this, while using more subjects, I also would have needed more researchers to observe and document the findings. Because I am only one person, five was an adequate number and this was a simple experiment that I was able to follow without any help.
Concerning human nature, the study suggests that we need sleep to use our memories properly. At least this can be said when it comes to words and filling in the blanks. The test subjects were eventually unable to be woken up, or were unable to remain awake during the experiment, further suggesting that even if it is for science, people need sleep. Maslow’s Hierarchy comes into play here, as I plainly saw that my test subjects stopped caring about my test results and began meeting their own basic needs of sleep and comfort. For Christian communities, the test suggests that Bible verses are easy enough to memorize, but difficult to recall if one is severely deprived of sleep. Many of the verses are long and worded somewhat differently to how we might normally speak, which makes them troublesome when memorizing, or attempting to recall when not all of our faculties are about us. However, it does not mean it is not impossible, just difficult. The most difficult part of the experiment, unsurprisingly, was keeping the participants awake for so long. They were more than happy to memorize the short verses and phrases I prepared, but when it came to staying up past their bedtime, it became very difficult after an hour or two.
Cota-McKinley, A. L. (2010). Social Psychology: Unraveling the Mystery. Chicago: Pearson Education.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, rev. standard version. Herbert G. May,
ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.