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There are now 19 comments... what are your thoughts?
  1. Gregory Bogosian says

    “Oi! Budge up” So empty is English?

  2. Andrew M. Farrell says

    This by the way is the reason why you should never try to have a discussion with your wife while driving.

    • That’s old data, with (presumably high IQ) college students making up the sample. The more current data suggests that 4 is the magic number for most people. Fortunately, this capacity appears somewhat plastic, and it seems that it can be improved if exercised. (And degraded if unused or exposed to a lot of cannabis.) Also different kinds of signals last longer in working memory — vision appears to decay the fastest — so it also depends to some extent on what you’re paying attention to. This is all an active topic of research, mostly focusing on what’s going on in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, and there appear to be cool advances in our understanding every month nowadays.

      EDIT: Here’s a link to a study from 2001 indicating it’s closer to 4.

      • As part of my psych class, I had to run an experiment based on the “seven plus or minus two” theory. The experiment actually supported the idea, with everyone having good memory up to the 6-8 digit range but falling off after that. For what it’s worth, they were all late 20s-early 30s, but none were college students at the time.

        I know, small sample size and experimenter bias and the like, but just putting it out there.

        • Ooh! Can we set up an online experiment readers of the comic could participate in? Not sure how we’d make it double-blind off the top of my head, and the sample would necessarily be self-selecting, but maybe an informal unscientific poll result would be enlightening?

          • While I’m sad to learn that my psych minor is already out of date (2012 wtf), I would love to participate in an experiment like this!

              • Try degrees in EE, CpE, or CS. It is almost certainly the case that I am preparing students for jobs in ways that will be on the verge of obsolete by the time they get to them.

                The silver lining for me has always been – and I believe this to be true about most forms of higher education, even though I lack across-the-board evidence – that it’s less about teaching things and more about teaching thought processes.

                • One of my law professors said he wanted to make sure we understood why the law is the way it is, and the underlying principles that drive the changes that happen to it, so that when it inevitably does change we have an idea of why and what’s likely to happen, the better to advise our clients. Another said it was his job, not to teach the law as it is, but the deeper underlying principles that explain as much of it as possible so when something new comes along we can understand what’s really going on. Almost all of them were like this — they trusted that we could figure out the “law as it is” stuff on our own, and focused more on making sure we understood all the places it was coming from so we could later understand where it went.

                  I had good professors. Sounds like your students do, too!

        • Six to eight digits or six to eight numbers? Six to eight digits are formatted in my mind as a phone number, and the same psychology textbooks (I “only” took the educational psych versions of the courses) will tell you that the way the information is encoded plays a role in how well we remember it. Chunking is just one strategy of many. that reduces the number of “items.”

  3. Chris C. says

    Good to see Cueball making a cameo appearance!

  4. Gege says

    In agreement with the other commenters, 7 is the size of the working memory for the absolute majority of humanity, and the standard deviation is very low. (Meaning people with slots for 5,6,8, or 9 “items” are very rare).

    It is pretty easy to test yourself, just look at any random set of facts and try to repeat them after a single read.
    For example go to IMDB movies top list places 450-460
    Read 7 of them out loud
    Turn away from the computer
    Repeat all 7 back. (an “item” is not a word, or a number, or a digit, but a standard thought

    Try again with the next 8, try to repeat them and… err.. what was the last one?

    • Careful — that kind of experiment encourages rather than curtails rehearsal, processing, and grouping, which is going to skew the results. Also, auditory working memory appears to have a dramatically larger capacity and duration than visual, and so saying the list aloud may well have an extra effect.

      The actual number isn’t important, though. Regardless of whether it’s the “magic 7” or the “mysterious 4” (or what, the “feasible five?” the “salient six?”), the point is that working memory has an amazingly limited capacity. And that’s going to become important when we get to facial recognition and event reconstruction.

  5. Cody Cromarty says

    “Imagine four balls on the edge of a cliff…”

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