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Wesleyan University

Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory through Movies

Wesleyan University via Coursera


Welcome to Understanding Memory. Someone once said that memory is fascinating because sometimes we forget what we want to remember, sometimes we remember what we want to forget, and sometimes we remember events that never happened or never happened the way we remember them. I want to show you how memory works, why it sometimes fails, and what we can do to enhance it. Based on my recent book – Memory and Movies: What Films Can Teach Us About Memory (MIT Press, 2015) – I will provide an introduction to the scientific study of human memory by focusing on a select group of topics that hold widespread appeal. To facilitate your understanding, I will use clips from numerous films to illustrate different aspects of memory – describing what has been learned about memory in a nontechnical way for people with no prior background in psychology. Many of us love watching movies because they offer an unparalleled opportunity for entertainment, even if entertaining films are not always scientifically accurate. Still, I believe that we can learn a lot about memory from popular films, if we watch them with an educated eye. Welcome once more. I am looking forward to showing you what movies can teach us about memory. John Seamon Professor of Psychology Emeritus Wesleyan University


  • Memory Processes and Memory Movies
    • Human memory involves a collection of systems that enable us to remember the past and imagine the future. Films can enhance our understanding of memory by telling us stories about people, illustrating how their present was shaped by their past and how, by watching their stories, we might navigate similar situations in our future.
  • Making Long Lasting Memories
    • Memory’s main purpose is to facilitate future thinking. But to plan successful future actions, effective strategies for learning and retention are needed. Some strategies are highly effective for producing long lasting memories, others are not.
  • Autobiographical Memories and Life Stories
    • Each of us has a life story based on our personal experiences. These autobiographical memories define us and make us unique. But in telling our life story, we have reconstructed a personal narrative, much like a memoir writer. These recollections are generally accurate, but our memories are never a perfect record of the past.
  • Understanding the Reality of Amnesia
    • Amnesia has often been portrayed in film as resulting from a bump on the head and cured by another head bonk. In real life, amnesia can follow physical or emotional trauma, it may be temporary or permanent, and if it resolves, it is never from another blow to the head.
  • Senior Moments, Forgetfulness, and Dementia
    • Changes in memory can occur as we get older. Some changes are normal, whereas others might signal the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. Memory loss is worrisome, but there are effective ways to help maintain memory function as we age.

Taught by

John Seamon


4.4 rating, based on 10 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 2191 ratings

Start your review of Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory through Movies

  • This insightful course draws from the experience and expertise of its instructor, Professor Emeritus John Seamon, in providing clear and concise exposition of how human memory works (and breaks down) through materials people enjoy – films. Both prof…
  • The professor was very knowledgeable and clearly has a passion for the topic. I learned a lot and really enjoyed the layout and material in the course. The use of films was a fun way to learn. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in memory. It's explained in a way that you can understand without any prior knowledge of the topic.
  • Profile image for Ave Keskel
    Ave Keskel
    I liked that good movies throughout history had been selected to explain memory. It helped to understand how we remember and how we forget while we grow older. It broke some myths about memory and gave useful advice how to memorize things. Summary at the end of each lecture was really helpful.
  • Profile image for Elizabeth Priego
    Elizabeth Priego
    I really enjoyed this course, you can learn so much about memory and the recommendations of the movies are amazing. I really congrat Dr John Seamon and Allynn Wilkison for the entertaining format of the videos and all the value information given in the course. Really recomended for everybody
  • Anonymous
    Prof. John Seamon makes this course an absolute joy! Do not forgo the pleasure of taking this highly informative and enjoyable course!
  • Kuronosuke
  • Teresa Tse

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