George Miller, Psychologist: Theories on Short Term Memory, Lesson & Quiz

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college information technology and literacy, and has a master's in counseling psychology and business administration.

George Miller is a pioneer in the field of cognitive psychology. Learn more about George Miller, his theory on short term memory, and his definition of chunking.


Try to read the following numbers, then try to repeat the numbers one-by-one verbally or write them down without looking back at the computer screen:

1, 2, 4, 8, 6, 0, 8, 4, 1, 0, 8, 1, 3, 2

How many numbers were you able to recall? If you are like most people, you remembered between 5 and 9 of the numbers listed. The items that you remembered were stored in short term memory. We use short term memory to store information for 20 to 30 seconds. This is in contrast to long term memory, which is thought to hold an infinite amount of information for extended periods of time.

So why can we only hold so little in short term memory?

George Miller and the Magic Number Seven

The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information is a well known article that was written by the late psychologist George Miller in 1956. In this paper, Miller set out to measure the amount of information that can be held in short term memory. Miller used experimental findings from several different studies to support his idea that on average, short term memory can hold 7 ± 2 (5 to 9) chunks or bits of information. So what do we mean by chunks?

George Miller and Chunking

George Miller also distinguished between bits of information and chunks of information in his paper. A bit can be thought of as a single unit of information. For example, in the following list of numbers, each individual number is a bit of information:

2, 4, 3, 5, 9, 8, 4, 1, 0, 7, 6, 3, 2

Chunking, or taking individual units of information and combining them to form groups, is useful when storing large amounts of data in short term memory. You probably use chunking every day without even noticing it. For example, phone numbers and social security numbers are usually remembered and written down in chunks.

Suppose we separated the numbers in the example above into chunks so that instead of trying to remember 14 individual numbers, you only had to remember 6 chunks of information.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member

Already a member? Log In

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 100 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,900 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

You now have full access to our lessons and courses, watch the lesson now or keep exploring.
You've watched a video! Now you are officially smarter, check out the next video or take the quiz to keep learning.
You took a quiz! Getting a perfect score on a quiz is how you gain course progress. If you aced it, great job! If not, don't worry, you can try again.
You now have full access to our lessons and courses, watch the lesson now or keep exploring.
You just finished your first lesson. has thousands of lessons to help you meet your educational goals.
You're making great progress. Aim to watch at least 30 minutes of lessons each day and you'll master this before you know it!
You've learned so much, but only scratched the surface. Wait until you see what we have in your next lesson!
Getting a perfect score on a quiz is how you gain course progress. If you aced it, great job! If not, don’t worry, you can try again.
You're getting the hang of this! Keep taking quizzes to make progress on your learning goals.
Look how far you've come! Take all the quizzes in a chapter and you'll master this topic in no time.
Keep clicking that 'next lesson' button whenever you finish a lesson and its quiz.
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate and you'll be done before you know it.
Two days in a row, nice! Keep your streak going to get the most of your learning and reach your goal faster.