Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Four is the 'magic' number

Date:
November 28, 2012
Source:
University of New South Wales
Summary:
According to psychological lore, when it comes to items of information the mind can cope with before confusion sets in, the "magic" number is seven. But a new analysis challenges this long-held view, suggesting the number might actually be four.

According to psychological lore, when it comes to items of information the mind can cope with before confusion sets in, the "magic" number is seven.

But a new analysis by a leading Australian psychiatrist challenges this long-held view, suggesting the number might actually be four.

In 1956, American psychologist George Miller published a paper in the influential journal Psychological Review arguing the mind could cope with a maximum of only seven chunks of information.

The paper, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information," has since become one of the most highly cited psychology articles and has been judged by the Psychological Review as its most influential paper of all time.

But UNSW professor of psychiatry Gordon Parker says a re-analysis of the experiments used by Miller shows he missed the correct number by a wide mark.

Writing in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Scientia Professor Parker says a closer look at the evidence shows the human mind copes with a maximum of four 'chunks' of information, not seven.

"So to remember a seven numeral phone number, say 6458937, we need to break it into four chunks: 64. 58. 93. 7. Basically four is the limit to our perception.

"That's a big difference for a paper that is one of the most highly referenced psychology articles ever -- nearly a 100 percent discrepancy," he suggests.

Professor Parker says the success of the original paper lies "more in its multilayered title and Miller's evocative use of the word 'magic'," than in the science.

Professor Parker says 50 years after Miller there is still uncertainty about the nature of the brain's storage capacity limits: "There may be no limit in storage capacity per se but only a limit to the duration in which items can remain active in short-term memory."

"Regardless, the consensus now is that humans can best store only four chunks in short-term memory tasks," he says.

The full discussion paper includes many exemplars of the magic of 'four'.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. George A. Miller. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information.. Psychological Review, 1956; 63 (2): 81 DOI: 10.1037/h0043158

Cite This Page:

University of New South Wales. "Four is the 'magic' number." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121128093930.htm>.
University of New South Wales. (2012, November 28). Four is the 'magic' number. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121128093930.htm
University of New South Wales. "Four is the 'magic' number." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121128093930.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A new study finds most crimes committed by people with mental illness are not caused by symptoms of their illness or disorder. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) NBC's "Today" conducted an experiment to see if changing the size of plates and utensils affects the amount individuals eat. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A recent report claims personality can change over time as we age, and usually that means becoming nicer and more emotionally stable. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How to Master Motherhood With the Best Work/Life Balance

How to Master Motherhood With the Best Work/Life Balance

TheStreet (Apr. 22, 2014) In the U.S., there are more than 11 million couples trying to conceive at any given time. From helping celebrity moms like Bethanny Frankel to ordinary soon-to-be-moms, TV personality and parenting expert, Rosie Pope, gives you the inside scoop on mastering motherhood. London-born entrepreneur Pope is the creative force behind Rosie Pope Maternity and MomPrep. She explains why being an entrepreneur offers the best life balance for her and tips for all types of moms. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins