Re: 7 plus or minus 2

Subject: Re: 7 plus or minus 2
From: Brad Connatser <cwrites -at- USIT -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 30 Aug 1996 23:58:01 GMT

In article <9607308414 -dot- AA841438430 -at- feric -dot- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>,
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca wrote:

> George Miller's (?) research on short-term memory (sorry,
> don't have the article handy) found that most people have
> no trouble holding 7 discrete items in their heads, hence
> the 7 digits in our telephone numbers. (The +/-2 part
> refers to the range of variation.) I've seen frequent
> attacks on people who extrapolate this research to
> instructions, user manuals, etc., but I have to say the
> attacks are unjust... if only because there's no research
> to support them, any more than there's research to support
> extending Miller's findings beyond phone numbers to
> software docs.

I have found that the results of researching short-term memory are very
applicable to sentence-level composition. The concept of how short-term
memory closes phrases (a la Chomsky's phrase-structure grammar) to create
meaning (or understanding, if you will) has increased my troubleshooting
skills at the sentence level. Understanding how short-term memory works
enables me to detect common composition "errors" such as left-branching
(top heavy) sentences and garden-path (expectation-denying) sentences.
However, I have not found a good application of psycholinguistic research
beyond the sentence.


Brad Connatser
Concurrent Communications
cwrites -at- usit -dot- net

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