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Chunking and data compression in verbal short-term memory.

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Short-term verbal memory is improved when words can be chunked into larger units. Miller (1956) suggested that the capacity of verbal short-term memory is determined by the number of chunks that can be stored in memory, rather than by the number of items or the amount of information. But how does the improvement due to chunking come about, and is memory really determined by the number of chunks? One possibility is that chunking is a form of data compression. It allows more information to be stored in the available capacity. An alternative is that chunking operates primarily by redintegration. Chunks exist only in long-term memory, and enable the corresponding items in short-term memory to be reconstructed more reliably from a degraded trace. We review the data favoring each of these views and discuss the implications of treating chunking as data compression. Contrary to Miller, we suggest that memory capacity is primarily determined both by the amount of information that can be stored but also by the underlying representational vocabulary of the memory system. Given the limitations on the representations that can be stored in verbal short-term memory, chunking can sometimes allow the information capacity of short-term memory to be exploited more efficiently. (202 words).



Chunking, Memory, Redintegration, Short-term memory, Data Compression, Humans, Memory, Long-Term, Memory, Short-Term, Mental Recall, Vocabulary

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Elsevier BV
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00005/11)