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Capacity Limitations of Memory and Learning

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Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning


Central bottleneck; Short-term memory; Working memory


While human capacity for information in the long term is very large, the amount of information that can be actively maintained and manipulated in the short term is quite small. Our ability to take information in, to explicitly hold it in mind, and to mentally manipulate it in the short term is limited. Thus, capacity limitations of memory and learning refer to constraints in our ability to maintain and process information held in the short term that affect long-term understanding and retention.

Theoretical Background

Modern study of memory limitations originated in the early 1950s with the work of George Miller (1956) who suggested that short-term memory has a capacity of 7 ± 2 items. This classic short-term limit is often measured using the forward span, the task of simply recalling a list of items immediately after they are presented. Miller noted that this limit of 7 ± 2 remains constant even across large...

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Correspondence to Andrew Mattarella-Micke .

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© 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

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Mattarella-Micke, A., Beilock, S.L. (2012). Capacity Limitations of Memory and Learning. In: Seel, N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA.

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