George Miller's Psychological Study to Improve Short-Term Memory

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  • 0:00 Magical Number 7
  • 1:41 Chunking Numbers
  • 2:49 Chunking Letters
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Bautista
Wouldn't it be nice to improve your short-term memory? According to one psychological study, there are, in fact, ways you can organize sets of new information to make them easier to remember. Based on the study, this lesson examines a method that can increase your short-term memory.

Magical Number 7

Is it possible to improve your working memory? Studies have shown that most people have similarly-sized working memories, but we may employ certain cognitive strategies to squeeze more information into a limited number of slots.

Let's look at a series of numbers for a few seconds:

2 6 9 31 20 6 3 3 25 1 17 9 5

Now see how many numbers you can remember, in the proper order.

Here's the list again so you can check your memory:

2 6 9 31 20 6 3 3 25 1 17 9 5

How many of the numbers did you remember? If you recalled somewhere between 5 and 9 digits, then you've reinforced a study conducted by psychologist George Miller.

Miller published the study under the title, 'The Magical Number 7, Plus or Minus Two.' It has long been understood to mean that there are limits on how many new items we can introduce at any one time to our short-term memory, and that the limiting number is 'seven, plus or minus two.'

At first glance this seems fairly straightforward. But think: what constitutes an 'element'? Look at this string of numbers:

2 6 9 3 2 6 3 3 2 1 1 9

Chunking Numbers

If you string together the numbers into groups of three, 2-6-9 then becomes one element (269), instead of three separate pieces of information. One 3-digit element is easier to remember than three separate numbers. The principle of chunking, or organizing a bigger string of new information into smaller chunks, can potentially increase the number of individual items that our short-term memories can recall at any given time. Grouping the single-digit numbers into groups of three is chunking.

269 326 332 119

Now let's try to remember this string of numbers:

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