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Tall Tales about the Mind and BrainSeparating fact from fiction$
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Sergio Della Sala

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780198568773

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198568773.001.0001

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The legend of the magical number seven

The legend of the magical number seven

Chapter:
(p.45) Chapter 4 The legend of the magical number seven
Source:
Tall Tales about the Mind and Brain
Author(s):

Nelson Cowan

Candice C. Morey

Zhijian Chen

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198568773.003.0005

This chapter begins by discussing a simple answer to the question of what primary memory capacity is: that primary memory can hold seven chunks or meaningful units. This answer was shown to have some basis in the facts, but overall it was shown not to be a general rule, and therefore was said to be a legend. However, it should be said that simple answers are not, in principle, bad. One of the goals of science is to find simple rules to explain the available evidence in a comprehensible manner. What makes the simple rules unacceptable is just when they are shown not to match the facts. What is likely to advance people to the next level is a better understanding of the long-term memory processes involved in chunking.

Keywords:   number seven, magical number, memory capacity, chunking

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