Info Mapping : What is a Chunk ?

Subject: Info Mapping : What is a Chunk ?
From: WRONECKI Frederic DG <frederic -dot- wronecki -at- FRANCETELECOM -dot- FR>
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 18:11:32 +0200

I wrote :

> A chunk is any physical or abstract stimulus that can be handled as a
> unique mental unit in the memory processing system.

To which Brad Connatser replied :

> A chunk is not a stimulus. Stimuli are encoded into abstractions similar
> to symbols in language.

Pardon me for insisting, but may I simply quote from "Psychologie
cognitive" (C. Fortin, R. Rousseau, Universite de Quebec), translated by me

" A chunk can be defined as any stimulus unit having a familiar meaning.
[...] A familiar word, for instance, is a chunk. But in a random sequence of
consonants, each letter could form a chunk".

I think we both agree on the fact that a chunk always originates from a

Later on, Brad wrote :

> When I'm reading instructions for assembling a lawnmower,
> the number of steps it takes to assemble it is not limited by
> "seven plus or minus 2."
> To use Miller's magic number seven to set limits on the number
> of steps in a procedure is arbitrary.

The undestatement is that the user *can* keep the manual at reach while
performing the successive steps : when this is possible, it is true that
(s)he needs not remembering the steps, which may then be as many as you

But there are circumstances when the user *must* remember the steps.
For instance when facing a customer to register his request, a
representative cannot reasonably spend half his time in the manual ! Or when
you must put out a fire with an extinguisher, you have no time to re-read...

Then, as long as the memory span is involved, Miller's rule is relevant.
But the challenge is not "to set limits on the number of steps" (which,
indeed, is arbitrary), but to organize steps into groups which will generate
as many chunks (a group of steps will form a single chunk when it becomes
"familiar", see the above quotation, and paragraph 3 in my first message).

And finally, Brad wrote :

> I'm not saying that info mapping doesn't work. I'm saying that basing the
> labeling principle of infom mapping upon the chunking principle of
> psycholinguistics is specious.

Since you refer to the labeling principle, I think you raise a slightly
different question than the "7 +/- 2 rule" : here, the raison d'etre of the
principle is to "condense" a block of text into its label, making it much
easier to remember as a single chunk.

Frederic Wronecki
France Telecom, Paris, France
mailto : frederic -dot- wronecki -at- francetelecom -dot- fr

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