Seven plus or minus two: the psychology of short term memory

Studies have shown that human beings can hold seven “bits” of information, plus or minus two. So if you’re really talented you can hold nine, and if you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed you can probably at least hold five.

So, what is a “bit” of information? I’m not going to try to define that scientifically, although I’m sure it’s been done before. However I will suggest that a bit could be a thought, an idea you’re trying to hold onto (whether that’s consciously driven or unconsciously), or just paying attention to the space between your toes.

I was reading an article at PsyBlog about this characteristic of short term memory, and it noted something very interesting: That a six-month old infant can only hold ONE bit of information at any given time.

Is this an advantage or a disadvantage? If your world only consists of one thing, that might mean you can’t get too complex with your thoughts. But then, complexity leads to confusion and thinking you know things. An infant doesn’t think they know anything, and as a result they are like silly putty, which as you know will absorb the ink from any section of the newspaper that you want to press it down upon.

Let me know your thoughts.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *