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Subject:Info Mapping : What is a Chunk ? From:Frederic Wronecki <frederic -dot- wronecki -at- WANADOO -dot- FR> Date:Thu, 5 Sep 1996 09:15:13 -0700
Brad Connaster wrote :
> What constitutes a "piece of information" ? A letter ?
> A word ? A phrase ? A clause ? A sentence ? A paragraph ?
A chunk is any physical or abstract stimulus that can be handled as a
unique mental unit in the memory processing system.
Miller's idea is that, at any time, no more than seven stimuli can be
But the notion of "chunk" is extremely variable :
1 - It may be a visual (text or picture) stimulus, as well as a sound, a
smell, etc. Miller's principle is then pure common sense : to be
"distracted" by a nasty smell or a loud noise simply means that your
global chunk processing capability is partly devoted to the distracting
stimulus, thus reduced for "useful" stimuli.
2 - The "scale" of a chunk is constantly changing : you can observe
different paintings on a museum wall (each one is a chunk), then focus on
one of them to examine the characters, the furniture or the landscape,
thus "forgetting" the other paintings. This splitting process (or its
reverse : grouping) can of course be "cascaded".
3 - Since it's related to mental processing, a chunk is a different thing
according to the subject's skill or experience : a professional musician
will see a set of chords on a score as a single unit, while a beginner
will have to read each note. A chess master sees the positions resulting
from the different possible moves as single units, while a beginner will
have to focus on each position to decompose it, etc.
4 - The "recoding" process helps us make a single chunk from a complex
set of information by generating a mental summary of it.
When it comes to writing, all these topics apply, for instance :
- Like a list, a flowchart should have 7 +/- 2 visible items. If there
must be more, make some visual groupings.
- A sentence can be a chunk in some cases, while it's just a part of a
chunk in others.
- Info Mapping's "labeling principle" means that you must drive the
reader's recoding, instead of letting him generate his own label (which
may be false).
- An experienced reader will handle each step of a procedure by its
title, while a beginner will have to read all the paragraph.
France Telecom, Paris, France mailto:frederic -dot- wronecki -at- wanadoo -dot- fr
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