Oades, Robert D.; Jemel, B.:

Where the magic breaks down: boundaries and the “focus-of-attention” in schizophrenia. Commentary on “The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity”

In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Jg. 24 (2001) ; Nr. 1, S. 135-136
ISSN: 0140-525X
Zeitschriftenaufsatz / Fach: Medizin
Abstract:
Miller (1956) summarized evidence that people can remember about seven chunks in short-term memory (STM) tasks. However,
that number was meant more as a rough estimate and a rhetorical device than as a real capacity limit. Others have since suggested
that there is a more precise capacity limit, but that it is only three to five chunks. The present target article brings together a wide variety
of data on capacity limits suggesting that the smaller capacity limit is real. Capacity limits will be useful in analyses of information
processing only if the boundary conditions for observing them can be carefully described. Four basic conditions in which chunks can be
identified and capacity limits can accordingly be observed are: (1) when information overload limits chunks to individual stimulus items,
(2) when other steps are taken specifically to block the recoding of stimulus items into larger chunks, (3) in performance discontinuities
caused by the capacity limit, and (4) in various indirect effects of the capacity limit. Under these conditions, rehearsal and long-term
memory cannot be used to combine stimulus items into chunks of an unknown size; nor can storage mechanisms that are not capacitylimited,
such as sensory memory, allow the capacity-limited storage mechanism to be refilled during recall. A single, central capacity limit
averaging about four chunks is implicated along with other, noncapacity-limited sources. The pure STM capacity limit expressed in
chunks is distinguished from compound STM limits obtained when the number of separately held chunks is unclear. Reasons why pure
capacity estimates fall within a narrow range are discussed and a capacity limit for the focus of attention is proposed.