The Memory Pill

Level: Intermediate/ Upper Intermediate
Age: Teenagers/ Adults

Links to online video:

  • Are there some things or times that you will never forget?
  • Are there some things or times that you wish you could forget?
  • Memories make the man. What do you make of this saying? Do you agree with it?
  • Those who forget the past will repeat it. What do you think this means?
  • If you could edit your memories, which ones would you erase and why? Which ones would  you make clearer and more vivid?
  • If you could take a drug to either remember or forget some things that have happened to you, would you take it?

Global viewing :

Watch the video and complete the mind-map. Then get together with another student and compare your notes. (you can watch in chunks and stop to do this after a short while)

Watching for details (optional activity to do in class or for homework)
Watch and answer (0:39’- 2:38’)
  1. Who is Beatriz Arguedas? Why is she experiencing psychological trauma?
  2. Who is Roger Pitman? What does he say about people with PTSD?
  3. What happened when Beatriz got to the emergency room?
  4. What is propranolol used for?
  5. How did Pitman think this drug would help Beatriz?
  6. What does Dr. Pitman’s study consist in?
  7. If Pitman were right, why would the results be so important?

Some surprising findings about memory (2:39’- 5:25’)

True of false?

1. The stress hormone adrenaline plays a role in the solidification of memories.
2. James McGaugh studies memory in rats.
  1. He’s found out that adrenaline enhances rats’ ability to forget.
  2. McGaugh speculates that the same thing happens in people.
  3. Mc Gaugh used propranolol in rats in order to stimulate adrenaline.

 Expand on the following ideas (5:25’- 8:13’)
1.  Roger Pitman read McGaugh's studies and a light bulb went on.
2.  Pitman started recruiting patients for a small pilot study.
3.  Kathleen Logue was knocked down in the middle of a busy Boston street by a bicyclist.
4. The President’s Council on Bioethics condemned the study in a report.
5. "A terrible act. Why should you have to live with it every day of your life?
6. David Magnus is somewhat skeptical about the use this drug might be given.

Watch and answer (8:14’- end’)
1.    What have scientists found out about the effect of propranolol on rats?
2.    Who is Alain Brunet? Why did she team up with Dr.Pitman?
3.    Who are Rita Magil and Louise O'Donnell-Jasmin?
4.    How has the drug worked out for them so far?
5.    What still needs to be done to test the efficacy of the drug?
6.    What’s the controversy brought about by this drug?
7.    Why will Dr. Pitman be receiving Army funding?
8.    Is the drug ready for general use?


The following are collocations that appear in the news report. Join with arrows and write down examples related to the video.
Group #1

  1. Enhance/ weaken/ strengthen             a. suicide
  2. Commit                                          b. research
  3. Treat                                              c. a bad experience
  4. Enroll                                              d. your memory
  5. Suffer                                             e. patients/ a condition
  6. Do/ conduct/ carry out                      f. somebody with a condition
  7. Recruit                                            g. in an experimental study
  8. Prescribe                                         h. from PTSD
  9. Go through                                      i. patients for a study/ employees
  10. Diagnose                                          j. a drug

Group #2

  1. A Painful/ traumatic/ vivid/                a. effects
  2. A memory-enhancing                          b. fright
  3. High                                                  c. pain
  4. Stage                                                d. condition
  5. Side                                                  e. car accident
  6. A life-threatening                               f. sound
  7. A heart                                              g. street
  8. Intense/ acute/ great                          h. memory
  9. A crackling                                         i. pill 
  10. A busy                                               j. blood pressure/ speed


In some cases more than one linker might be possible.

THEREFORE                  HOWEVER                 THOUGH           FURTHERMORE                 DESPITE
  1. Louise thinks that after taking the drug, her traumatic memories have weakened. ____________, she feels better.
  2. Pitman speculates that_______________the pleasant movie, Louise may have been thinking about the rape when she took the propranolol, and that's why it worked.
  3. Many of us would pay top dollar for a pill that would enhance our ability to remember. _______________, we found a scientist who is far more excited about a pill that promises to do exactly the opposite.
  4. The patient who made the most dramatic recovery turned out to be  Louise, but there's a catch, because she was in a control group and, _______________wasn’t supposed to improve at all.
    5.  The studies are still in their early stages, so O'Donnell-Jasmin's apparent positive result isn't conclusive,_____________to her, it's absolutely real.

by (x2)                        in                 away                  with               for                   under                 over (x2)              into         about            on                   down (x2)
  1. The idea of having a "memory pill" has some critics alarmed and some trauma victims filled _______________ hope. 
  2.    Dr. Roger Pitman has studied and treated patients with PTSD, _____________ 25 years.
  3. Patients with PTSD are so caugt up so much with this past event that it's constantly in their mind. They're living it _____________and_____________ as if it's happening again. And they just can't get involved ______________ real life.
  4. Pitman enrolled Beatriz _____________ an experimental study of a drug called propranolol. Pitman thought it might do something almost magical – trick Beatriz’s brain ______________ making a weaker memory of the event she had just experienced. 
  5. In the study, which is still ______________ way, half the subjects get propranolol; half get a placebo. 
  6. The solidification of memories depends ______________ the stress hormone adrenaline.
  7. The rat will swim around the edge for a long time, until eventually he ventures out and ___________chance bumps into the platform. The next day, he'll find the platform a little bit faster.
  8. Pitman figured he could block that cycle by giving trauma victims propranolol right ____________ ... before adrenaline could make the memories too strong.
  9.   Kathleen Logue is a paralegal who was  knocked ______________in the middle of a busy Boston street _____________ a bicyclist.
  10. The study was simple: Subjects came in and were asked to think _____________ and write _______________ every detail they could remember about their trauma.

Answer the following questions. Try to work out the meaning of the words and expressions in bold. If possible find a suitable equivalent in your language.
1. Which of the following would you use to define your memory?
GOOD                   POOR            LONG-TERM         SHORT-TERM           VISUAL           FAILING
2. Do you find it easy to remember things by heart?
3. Can you recall people's names easily? 
4. Do usually make a mental note or do you need to keep a pocket diary or any kind of reminder in order to remember what you have to do?
5.  Do you agree with the saying "out of sight, out of mind"?
6. Do you ever find that some smells or tastes bring back/ evoke memories from the past?

7. Talk about a happy childhood memory.
8. Have you ever done anything to boost/ enhance your memory? What?
9. Can you provide examples of a catchy tune/ song/ name

10. Is there anybody or any place you consider unforgettable?

11. Is there anything you distinctly remember doing during your last holiday?

12. When was the last time you racked your brains to remember something?

13. When was the last time you had something on the tip of your tongue?

14. When was the last time you ran into someone you didn't know but whose face rang a bell?

15. When was the last time you had to refresh your memory?

Online quiz: REMEMBER or REMIND?

  • Go back to the mindmap and retell the news report using as much new vocabulary as possible. Then, write down a short summary in pairs including the new lexical items.

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