The 7 Plus or Minus 2 Rule by George Miller

In 1956, George Miller gave the 7 plus or minus 2 Rule to define the limits of human memory. What this means is that the short-term memory, which is also called the working memory, can store only about 5 to 9 pieces, 5 when the information is complex, and 9 when it is simple.

Look at the number in the following image. Now close your eyes for a moment. Then look away from the screen and try to recall the number.

George Miller's Seven Plus Minus Two Formula for Short Term Memory Capacity and Instructional Design.

  • How easy or difficult was it?
  • Did you go wrong?
  • Did you feel confused?

The number you just tried memorizing, has 10 digits or one higher than the upper limit prescribed by Dr. Miller.

Chunking the Information Method by Simon & Chase:

Now, look at the following image. If you are an Indian, you’ll be able to relate the “chunks” of information to your prior schema.

George Miller's Seven Plus Minus Two rule and Simon and Chase's Chunking Principle.

When we chunk the information (find recognizable patterns in it and then remember the patterns,) we see 1971 (the year of India-Pakistan War that resulted in the birth of Bangladesh,)  and the year 47 (the year when India became independent,) sandwiched between the two halves of 2020 (the year of the pandemic.) Now look away, and try to recall the number.

  • Did it become easier for you to recall it?
  • Was your performance better than before?

This is how chunking helps improve the performance of our short-term memory, which of course is essential for further processing and storage of knowledge.

Chunking” was first proposed by William Chase and Herbert Simon in 1973, and this method is used extensively in making learning easier for the audience.

In the next post, we will discuss the Cognitive Load Theory by Dr. John Sweller, and see how he built upon Miller’s Rule.