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The historical view of short-term memory capacity The span of absolute judgement is defined as the limit to the accuracy with which one can identify the magnitude of a unidimensional stimulus variable (Miller, 1956), with this limit or span traditionally being around 7 2.Miller cites Hayes memory span experiment as evidence for his limiting span.Thus a simple either or decision requires one bit of information; with more required for more complex decisions, along a binary pathway (Miller, 1956).
It is particularly important to be clear on the normal capacity of short term memory as, without a proper understanding of the intact brain’s functioning it is difficult to assess whether an individual has a deficit in ability (Parkin, 1996).
This review outlines George Miller’s historical view of short-term memory capacity and how it can be affected, before bringing the research up to date and illustrating a selection of ways of measuring short-term memory capacity.
Similarly the word length effect indicates that memory span is higher for words with a shorter spoken duration; syllable length varying as long as the spoken duration remains relatively constant (Parkin, 1996).
This is similar to Miller’s chunking of information, if one were to assume that the spoken duration was a chunk of information and the syllable length was the bit of information.
Cowan refers to the maximum number of chunks that can be recalled as the memory storage capacity (Cowan, 2001).
It is noted that the number of chunks can be affected by long-term memory information, as indicated by Miller in terms of recoding - with additional information to enable this recoding coming from long-term memory.
However 6 learned pairs could be recalled as successfully as 6 pre-exposed singleton words (Chen & Cowan, 2005).
This suggested a different mechanism for recall depending on the circumstances.
Thus the conclusions that can be drawn from Miller’s original exposition is that, whilst there is an accepted limit to the number of chunks of information that can be stored in immediate (short-term) memory, the amount of information within each of those chunks is able to be quite high, without adversely affecting the recall of the same number of chunks.
The modern view of short-term memory capacity Millers magic number 7 2 has been more recently redefined to the magic number 4 1 (Cowan, 2001).