Lesson Idea: Kahn the Caveman

Travis DixonAbnormal Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Teaching Ideas

This simple idea is another example of how to use real-life, concrete examples to help students understand abstract concepts.
  • This lesson comes from the PTSD unit/chapter and will help students understand an evolutionary explanation of the effects of stress (emotion) on memory.
  • It also helps consolidate learning about fear conditioning, which is a key concept in the study of PTSD.

    If you saw a bear in the woods, would you want to remember it, or forget about it. Why?

Kahn the Caveman!

Kahn is living 40,000 years ago. He’s part of a hunter-gatherer tribe living in Southern Europe. To survive, they hunt Elk and other animals. However, Kahn and his fellow tribesmen have to be careful of bears, wolves and other dangerous animals.

One day when Kahn was hunting he came across a brown bear. As you know, his amygdala would have perceived the threat and activated his stress response. This would have released a surge of cortisol.

Here’s the question: do you think it would be more advantageous for Kahn if the cortisol:

  1. Enhanced his ability to remember this event,
  2. or…Reduced his ability to remember this event?
    • Why?

A NOTE ON LANGUAGE: When we’re talking about evolutionary psychology, the proper term to use is “early human ancestor,” not “caveman.” Caveman is the term use in popular culture, but early human ancestor is the term used by academics. So it wouldn’t be a good idea to use the word caveman in an academic paper, like an exam.