The magical number seven plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information.

  title={The magical number seven plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information.},
  author={George A. Miller},
  journal={Psychological review},
  volume={63 2},
First, the span of absolute judgment and the span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence or chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck. Second, the process of recoding is a very important one in human psychology and deserves much more explicit attention than it has… 

Figures and Tables from this paper

Auditory and visual interaction in immediate memory.

  • H. Buschke
  • Psychology
    Journal of psychiatric research
  • 1962

Chunking: An Interpretation Bottleneck

An important representational constraint that arises from the restricted ca­ pacity of distributed representations for encoding composed, structured objects is shown to be related to some key properties of human short-term memory.

Simultaneous better than sequential for brief presentations.

This paper reports on experiments designed to overcome limitations in the information transfer between the large number of alphanumeric characters available and the acquiring of these characters, and used shorter SOA's than did previous investigators.


The role of the short-term memory in human information processing hardly requires special mention.It is absolutely indispensable for decoding sequentially coded information as well as for

Pigeons and the Magical Number Seven

P pigeons seem to be severely limited in their ability to identify such stimuli when they are members of a large set, the result of an imperfect memory coupled with a decision process that uses only a small sample of the information in this memory.

An item and order processing analysis of word length, generation and perceptual interference effects in human memory

When participants are presented with lists of items for immediate serial recall, tradition would suggest that a race begins - between the need to constantly refresh or recycle the memory trace of

The Magical Number Two, Plus or Minus One: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Musical Information

Like all fields of human artistic endeavour, music is constrained by our cognitive processing requirements and limitations (Swain, 1986; Lerdahl, 1988; Huron, 2001). This articleconsiders particular

Visual and auditory working memory capacity

  • N. Cowan
  • Psychology
    Trends in Cognitive Sciences
  • 1998

George Miller's magical number of immediate memory in retrospect: Observations on the faltering progression of science.

  • N. Cowan
  • Psychology
    Psychological review
  • 2015
This commentary relates some correspondence with Miller on his article and concludes with a call to avoid self-censorship of the authors' less conventional ideas.



Experimental Psychology

TWENTY years ago it was still possible to get the main results of the application of experiment to the problems of psychology within a reasonably small volume, and several excellent text-books were

The discrimination of visual number.

It is suggested that some property of a collection of objects makes it possible for a person to say that one of these groups is greater-than, lessthan, or equal-to the other group.

An experimental study of the effect of language on the reproduction of visually perceived form.

The experiments reported in this paper are part of a study of the conditions which affect the reproduction of visually perceived form. Previous investigators such as G. E. Muller, F. Wulf, and J. J.

An Analysis of Perceptual Confusions Among Some English Consonants

Sixteen English consonants were spoken over voice communication systems with frequency distortion and with random masking noise. The listeners were forced to guess at every sound and a count was made

Multidimensional stimulus differences and accuracy of discrimination.

Determined discrimination accuracy using the method of absolute judgment for a series of stimuli varying along the single dimensions of size, hue and brightness was considerably greater than that obtained for any of the compounding dimensions used alone.

The Occurrence of Clustering in the Recall of Randomly Arranged Words of Different Frequencies-Of-Usage

Abstract : The study is closely related to one previously reported in that both deal with the influence of reinforcement on the incidence of clustering in the recall of randomly arranged words. Both

The effect of presenting various numbers of discrete steps on scale reading accuracy.

Abstract : An experiment was conducted to determine the accuracy with which a subject can determine the value of a continuous variable when only discrete values representing ranges of the continuous

An informational analysis of absolute judgments of loudness.

Chromaticity-Confusion Contours in a Complex Viewing Situation*

From standard colors distributed throughout the CIE constant-luminance diagram, selected colors which can be discriminated with high levels of accuracy and so are suitable for coding qualitative and quantitative information are selected.

Relative Effects of Determinate and Indeterminate "Aufgaben"