Information

Chunking: more chunks or more items?

Chunking: more chunks or more items?

I'm working on a game that's designed to exercise the player's short-term memory. In the core game loop, I present the user with a random set of items (anywhere from 3 to 30), and after they click start, ask them to regurgitate that set of items.

The items themselves are simple but arbitrary / semantically meaningless, eg. four colours (red/blue/green/yellow), or four arrows (up/down/left/right).

As I increase the game difficulty, what I want to know is: is it more difficult for humans to memorize more groups (eg. five groups of two items each), or smaller groups with more items (eg. two groups of five items each)?

I recall learning that short-term memory is generally seven items (plus or minus two, eg. 5-9 items) but I'm not sure how grouping/chunking affects that.


I think you're misunderstanding the concept of chunking. If the items are arbitrary with no connection to each other, chunking will do you no good since grouping them is meaningless and thus you're still memorizing the individual items in the groups instead of the groups themselves. This paper from Brady et al. goes into depth about the limits of working memory, I also recommend looking up the references mentioned. Here is a relevant passage about the definition of chunking from that paper:

Cowan (2001) defined a chunk as a group of items where the intrachunk associations are greater than the interchunk associations. In other words, in the sequence FBICIA the letters F, B, and I are highly associated with each other and the letters C, I, and A are highly associated with each other, but the letters have fewer associations across the chunk boundaries. Thus, observers are able to recall the sequence using the chunks FBI and CIA, effectively taking up only two of the four chunks that people are able to store in memory (Cowan, 2001; Cowan, Chen, & Rouder, 2004). By comparison, when the letters are random, say HSGABJ, they are more difficult to remember, since it is more difficult to chunk them into coherent, associated units.


Three Information Processing Strategies – Part 1 – Chunking Information

By far, my favorite unit of study in my AP Psychology class is cognition. I love instructing on the many different aspects of memory (encoding, storage, retrieval, short-term/working memory, long-term memory, et cetera) and providing students with different strategies for enhancing their studying to retain more information. It is so cool to be able to tell students why spaced practice is a much more effective learning strategy than cramming for an assessment…and to have these types of conversations be part of my curriculum is a huge bonus.

Along these lines, there are three strategies included in my discussion with students aimed at giving them a few simple ‘tricks’ to retain more information. They’re quite simple, and they’ve probably heard of them before, but they are so woefully utilized. I think this may be due, in part, to their simplicity. Unfortunately, I believe that we’ve somewhat trained our students (and teachers) that the more complicated a new strategy is for learning or the more steps there are in an assignment, the better it is for learning. I often find this to be incorrect. Usually, what happens is the material to be learned is lost amongst a deluge of other information that is important for that particular assignment, but not for the overall understanding of the subject matter.* Don’t underestimate simple. Simple is good.

The first of the strategies is chunking of information breaking down a large swath of material into smaller, more easily digestible bits of information. This is usually mentioned along with a discussion of the capacity of short-term (AP Psychology focuses on George Miller’s 7 + or – 2). There’s a simple demonstration of short-term memory’s capacity, which nicely transitions into a discussion of chunkings benefit for learning. The demonstration goes something like this:

  1. Read a list of random digits out loud for students, beginning with 4 digits. Be sure to take care not to read them out with any obvious inflection and space the number about one second apart.
  2. After you’ve read the list, students should copy down the digits to the best of their ability.
  3. Read out the four digits again and see who got it wrong/right.

Continue these steps for five digits, then six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. Without fail, the more digits required to retain in short-term memory, the more errors students will make. This also highlights how fleeting information is in short-term memory when it is not rehearsed, increasing its ability to be stored in long-term memory.

When the demonstration gets to about eight digits, students may begin audibly chatting about how difficult this is and some may even stop participating out of frustration. Those that are maybe more inclined to be competitive will continue on and one or two may even get all of the digits written down correctly when nine and ten digits are recited by the teacher. However, a vast majority will not successfully complete this task. It is just asking too much of our short-term memory.

Now to introduce chunking.

I tell the students that I want to try one more set of ten digits and I promise they will be more successful if they give quality effort. At this point, I read off the school’s phone number. Instead of reading the digits off individually at a pace of about one digit per second, I read it much more “naturally”, like we normally speak phone numbers. At least, in the US, this means three chunks of information: 256-534-6830 (no, that’s not actually my school’s phone number. Somewhat magically, students are now able to remember ten different digits much more successfully. And I can almost see the thirty small light bulbs turn on above their heads in the classroom. They get it…but they’re not sure why, yet.

On the one hand, it’s clearly still ten digits to remember. On the other, the information has been chunked and the brain no longer processes the numbers as ten distinct bits of information to remember, but three or four chunks of information. So, short-term memory is now taxed much less and the ability to retain the material is much greater.

Now, how does this translate to the much bigger picture of retaining actual subject matter and not just random numbers?

I encourage students to look at their material to be learned and compare/contrast among the information. What similarities and/or differences do they notice? What categories do they notice? How can they chunk this material into smaller, meaningful bits along these lines? All of these questions are important to consider when chunking.

Not only are they experiencing the benefits on short-term memory by chunking the material, but they are also processing the information on a deeper level. This can also increase the possibility information will be retained. Instead of possibly seeing the different bits of information as singular facts, they are made to consider how the subject matter relates (For more on this topic, I encourage a read of this post).

So chunking can be quite effective and efficient for retention and learning. It also facilities a very healthy study habit for students and can be very widely applied across different grade levels and subjects. It’s a winner of a strategy.


43. Chunking

The term chunking was introduced in a 1956 paper by George A. Miller, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two : Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information. Chunking breaks up long strings of information into units or chunks. The resulting chunks are easier to commit to working memory than a longer and uninterrupted string of information. Chunking appears to work across all mediums including but not limited to: text, sounds, pictures, and videos. Perhaps the simplest example of chunking is a phone number as displayed in Figure 1.

16047559385

Without chunking, the number is hard to remember.

1 604 755 9385

The breaking down of the number into more &ldquological&rdquo chunks makes the number easier to remember.

1 (604) 755-9385

The addition of deliminators can also make the chunking process even more effective.

In his original paper, Miller proposed that the maximum number of items (one number in a phone number would be an item) that should be chunked is 7 +/- 2. In other words, chunking enhances working memory most effectively when a string of information is broken into chunks of five to nine items.

More recently, Miller&rsquos contemporaries such as Broadbent (1975) have suggested that the working memory capacity is actually 4-6 items and others like LeCompte (1999) have argued for as few as three. In practice, a range of three to six bits (4+/-1) appears ideal for interaction design. To validate this practice, consider Figure 2 which examines different size chunks in the context of an Operating System License Key (this is a random number and not an actual key).

B17JQX84MEHP3JCXQV74QLVBE

An example of chunking that is > 7 +/- 1

B17JQX84MEHP3JC XQV74QLVBE

An example of chunking that is = 7 +/- 1

B17JQ X84ME HP3JC XQV74 QLVBE

An example of chunking that is = 4+/- 1

For most people, the last example would best facilitate a quick glance at one chunk of information, placement of the chunk in working memory, and the data entry of the chunk into the license key field. The end user could then repeat this process for the remaining four chunks.

43.1 for Interaction Design

The primary purpose of chunking is the enhancement of working memory. Chunking, therefore, should not be used when the information must be searched, scanned, or analyzed. Search engine results are an example of information that does not need to be memorized and therefore should not be chunked. If one where to constrain the number of results per page to five (4+/-1) then the end user could actually spend more time moving back and forth between pages (searching), comparing the various definitions (scanning), and deciding on the most appropriate definition (analyzing).

In short, Chunking should not be used as an argument for improved simplicity, legibility, or uncluttered page design. Many novice interaction practitioners unwittingly apply chunking in this manner (Bailey 2000) when they:

  • Constrain the number of items on a menu bar to five or six.
  • Place only five or six items in a pull down menu.
  • Apply &ldquoThe rule of six&rdquo to power point presentation or bulleted lists.
  • Never have more than five or six radio buttons or check boxes together.

None of the above examples are a valid use of chunking and arguably such misapplication of the chunking principle has led some to dismiss chunking as little more than a &ldquosuperstition&rdquo (Bailey 2000) or an &ldquoUrban legend&rdquo (Jones 2002). This is not to say that the above constraint should not be applied for other design reasons, rather that &ldquothe limits on our capacity for processing information&rdquo as described by Miller and others are not a proper justification in this context

43.2 for Interaction deign

Chunking is ideal when specific information must be memorized for later use. E-learning applications should make liberal use of chunking to aid in end-user memorization. Chunking is also ideal in environments where an interface must compete against other stimuli for the attention or working memory of the end user (car navigation systems, cell phone, public kiosks). Consider a health practitioner in an emergency room scenario. They are often:

  1. Barraged by a multitude of visual and auditory stimuli such as telephones ringing, people talking, and rapid movement.
  2. May have only moments to look at an interface to extract and memorize the important information.
  3. May need to enter this information into disparate systems without the benefit of referring back to the source.
  4. Use legacy systems that cannot be reprogrammed to repopulate or carry over data from one screen to the next
  5. Are not allowed to write down information due to privacy legislation.

In the above environment, effective use of chunking can improve the usability and effectiveness of an information system. In Figure 3, the left hand column (Column A) does not use chunking while the right hand column (Column B) does. Of the two scenarios, Column B makes it much easier and faster for a health practitioner to focus on and memorize the Patient ID, especially when faced with the sensory overload of an emergency room.

Column A - Without Chunking

Column B - With Chunking

Patient ID:678290234
Name: Joe Smith
DOB:02111973

Patient ID 6782 9023 4
Name: Joe Smith
DOB 02 / 11 / 1973

43.3 Summary

Chunking, when applied in its proper context, is a subtle but powerful design principle that can help improve the overall usefulness of systems. The primary goal of chunking is to help in situations where the commitment of information to working memory is required. Chunking helps in this process by breaking long strings of information into bit size chunks that are easier to remember, especially when the memory is faced with competing stimuli.


Chunking

In cognitive psychology and mnemonics, chunking refers to a strategy for making more efficient use of short-term memory by recoding information.

The word refers to a famous 1956 paper by George A. Miller, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two : Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information. At a time when information theory was beginning to be applied in psychology, Miller observed that whereas some human cognitive tasks fit the model of a "channel capacity" characterized by a roughly constant capacity in bits, short-term memory did not. A variety of studies could be summarized by saying that short term memory had a capacity of about "seven plus-or-minus two" chunks. Miller wrote that "With binary items the span is about nine and, although it drops to about five with monosyllabic English words, the difference is far less than the hypothesis of constant information would require. The span of immediate memory seems to be almost independent of the number of bits per chunk, at least over the range that has been examined to date." Miller acknowledged that "we are not very definite about what constitutes a chunk of information."

Miller noted that according to this theory, it should be possible to effectively increase short-term memory for low-information-content items by mentally recoding them into a smaller number of high-information-content items. "A man just beginning to learn radio-telegraphic code hears each dit and dah as a separate chunk. Soon he is able to organize these sounds into letters and then he can deal with the letters as chunks. Then the letters organize themselves as words, which are still larger chunks, and he begins to hear whole phrases." Thus, a telegrapher can effectively "remember" several dozen dits and dahs as a single phrase. Naive subjects can only remember about nine binary items, but Miller reports a 1954 experiment in which people were trained to listen to a string of binary digits and (in one case) mentally group them into groups of five, recode each group into a name (e.g "twenty-one" for 10101), and remember the names. With sufficient drill, people found it possible to remember as many as forty binary digits. Miller wrote:

"It is a little dramatic to watch a person get 40 binary digits in a row and then repeat them back without error. However, if you think of this merely as a mnemonic trick for extending the memory span, you will miss the more important point that is implicit in nearly all such mnemonic devices. The point is that recoding is an extremely powerful weapon for increasing the amount of information that we can deal with".

This kind of recoding is now often called chunking.


Chunking Increases Memory

Miller’s research showed that by organizing items into chunks short memory capacity can be substantially increased.

Miller discovered that an organized chunk of information functions as one item, and that a person could hold around seven chunks of information in short term working memory at the same time. These units or chunks can be thought of as seven containers each capable of holding one chunk of information in memory.

Individual letters can form into words words can be formed into sentences, and then even into stories. Thus, more than seven letters or words can be held in short-term or working memory.

Examples of Chunking

The classic example of chunking is numbers. It is much easier to remember three sets of numbers, instead of 8 or 10 seemingly random numbers strung together.


Chunking up

When chunking up a specific concept, object, thing etc is moved towards being more general. This can allow for a broader view, or put things into a new context. Also, small, simple parts can be synthesised and moved up into a larger concept

  • From a part to a whole – Spoke = Wheel = Frame = Bicycle
  • From an example of a larger category to that very larger category itself – Daisy = flower = Plant = Flora = Living Organism

In simple terms chunking up creates more choices and options and encourages expansive lateral mental thought….seeing the bigger picture! Milton model processes work beautifully in relation to this.

Chunking down

When chunking down a general concept or general relation to an object or thing etc is moved towards being more specific thus the surface structure is penetrated and the deeper structure examined. Small parts can be sub-divided and clarified.

  • From a whole to a part – Bicycle = Frame = Wheel = Spoke = Aluminium
  • From a larger category to an example of that larger category – Aircraft = Rotorcraft = Helicopter = Focke-Wolf = FW 61

This can be classified as analytical, and helps with understanding the relation of parts to the whole. The Meta model is the perfect process for this.

Chunking across

Additionally, chunks can be used to traverse one member of a class to another related member on the same level of that class or part of a whole to another component part of the same whole.

  • Member of a class to another member – Bus = Taxi = Train = Tram = Ferry (all modes of public transport).
  • Part of a whole to another part – Button = Pocket = Belt = Seam= Zip (all parts of a pair of trousers).

Chunking across is akin to promoting free association that is to say that connections can be made between objects that initially appear to have no relation to each other.

Chunking Phrases

When considering the type of phrases that can be used when chunking, it becomes apparent that the list would never be exhaustive. Here are just some of the phrases that can be used for the purposes of Chunking up

  • “You say you are depressed, how then are the ways, do you realise, that other depressed peoplecan begin to feel happy again?”
  • “If you don’t like your job, tell me what can people, like you, can do about it?”
  • “See the sea…and see the sea sailors in their boats as you look, and see, what does a sailor get from sailing on the sea…what other examples can you think of that water be usefully used for…wellness?”
  • “How can a Transistor Radio affect the feelings and well being of a listener as they both listen, or not, but are…?”
  • “What is the purpose of young children who take pleasure from exploring simple things…and how it can help you in your situation?”
  • “I often wonder if lions lie as they are lying with lions in the sun…if they did would lying lions lie like people sometimes do? What kind of intention do lies have…?”
  • If a person does the wrong things for the right reasons, are their intentions then noble…?”
  • “Some people seem to change when they get behind the wheel of a car, what are your thoughts on the modern day driver of today?”
  • “It’s not what you know that you don’t know that causes you problems it’s what you don’t know that you know…now, how does knowing that that apply to you right now?”
  • “As I say the word school do you have childhoodmemories? What is the purpose of that memory now? What can you take from that memory?”

And here is a list of phrases that can be used for the purposes of Chunking Down

  • “Okay then, can you tell me exactly what it is that makes you feel that you are depressed?”
  • “What precisely prevents you from applying for other jobs and changing your profession?”
  • “Yes, water does indeed have many uses, but I actually want you to tell me which day of the week it is that you swim at your local swimming club to keep fit…and how many lengths you actually swim!”
  • Transistor radios are useful in the home….but do you have one in your office? Where is it situated and what channel do you listen to?”
  • “How many children do you have, how old are they and what are their names?”
  • “Please give me an example of when you have lied to him. What exactly prevented you from telling your husband the truth at that time?”
  • “Who exactly decides what is right and wrong? Can you give me an example of what doing the right thing for the wrong reason is? Thanks, now please tell me exactly how you have decided that it is a noble action”
  • “What kind of car do you drive? Have you been involved in a driving incident lately? If so where did it happen?”
  • What prevents you from tapping into your inner resources to solve the problem of how to change that plug fuse? You have after all done it before several times!”
  • “Can you tell me the name of the primary school that you attended and the name of your best friend in primary five?”

The contrast between the chunking up and chunking down phrases above offers a concise, simplistic illustration of the practical application of this set of skills. Now that I have learnt about chunking I am becoming ever more surprised by the amount of possibility it offers me in my every day interactions. The Hierarchy of Ideas undoubtedly facilitates the art of excellent communication, intervention and the removal of blockages.

Chunking is indeed everywhere….. (Where exactly?).

Learn more about the amazingly influential use of language patterns in our NLP Training Courses


What Makes Chunking Such An Effective Way To Learn?

How is chunking memory more efficient than normal memorizing? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Robert Frost, Instructional design specialist, on Quora:

How is chunking memory more efficient than normal memorizing?

The words in the question aren’t being used in a truly compatible manner. Chunking refers to the organization of information. The process of encoding memories into long term memory for later recall is the same whether the information is chunked or unchunked.

Chunking is a tool for getting around the bottleneck of short-term memory. The average person can only manipulate seven pieces of information in short-term memory, at a time.

In 1956, George Miller of Harvard published a paper, in Psychological Review, titled The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Miller’s paper resulted from a series of cognitive load experiments he and others conducted. Miller determined that people could handle between five and nine pieces of information, seven is simply the mean.

However, Miller introduced a term called “chunking”. He determined that people could store more information if they were able to chunk or combine some pieces of information.

For example, let’s look at an American phone number.

A modern American phone number is ten digits long. It used to be that just the last seven could be used for local calls, but nowadays most systems require all ten. The phone number I used is one from Houston, Texas. In Houston, there are three big area codes: 713, 281, and 832. If you live in Houston, after a while, each of these area codes cease to be treated as three discrete pieces of information. The area code becomes one piece of information, reducing the total sum of pieces of information. The three bits of information seven, one, and three have become a single concept 713.

The next three numbers, the prefix, can also become chunked if used a lot. These prefixes often refer to neighborhoods. And, sometimes people can treat the last four digits as two numbers. So, our ten digit number has the potential to become four pieces of information.

Chunking is one of the most fundamental ideas for a teacher to learn. A good teacher helps the students to handle a greater bandwidth of information by chunking that information. Chunking often takes advantage of existing information in our long term memory. For example, to recognize a person’s face, we draw upon several stored pieces of information about that face. When asked to recall the names of people that were in a room, we aren’t overloaded by all of the information because we have turned complicated faces into single pieces of information.

A related concept called cognitive loading builds upon these restrictions of our minds. Cognitive Load Theory says that the amount of information and interactions that must be processed simultaneously can either under-load or overload the finite amount of working memory. If overloaded, all elements must be processed before meaningful learning can continue. The more a person has to learn in a shorter period of time, the more difficult it is to process that information. Researchers such as Paul Chandler and John Sweller have written extensively on the implications of cognitive load theory on the format of instruction and learning.

Richard E. Mayer is an educational psychologist with more than 390 publications, including 23 books. He has developed a set of learning principles. One of those is the Segmenting Principle. That principle states that:

People learn better when a complex continuous lesson is broken into separate segments. Examples include breaking a complex figure into two or more smaller figures dealing with different parts of the original one presenting one graphic at a time rather than putting multiple graphics in the same figure or breaking a continuous presentation into short chunks that can be paced by the learner. The learner’s working memory is less likely to be overloaded with essential processing when the essential material is presented in bite-size chunks rather than as a whole continuous lesson.

Jerome Bruner is one of the founders of constructivism. His book The Process of Education led to significant experimentation and educational reform during the 1960s. Bruner’s theory of instruction identifies four characteristics of effective instruction (readiness, content structure, sequencing, and reinforcement). Combined, these principles lead to the idea of the spiral curriculum. Spiral learning refers to the idea of revisiting basic ideas over and over, building upon them and elaborating to the level of full understanding and mastery.

So, putting all of that together, we can deduce that learning will likely be most efficacious when:

1) It occurs in small chunks that can make it through the bottlenecks of short term memory and cognitive load and those chunks are designed to build upon each other.

2) Those series of chunks build upon each other by calling into use the material learned in earlier chunks, providing both repetition and connection opportunities.

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:


What are Mnemonics?

Mnemonics are memory tricks that can help you remember long strings of information, often in a particular order. You have been using mnemonic devices since. well, before you can remember!

Mnemonic devices have helped people achieve phenomenal feats in the world of memory. Get to know these tricks and devices. You can use them to help you remember phone numbers, create a more secure password, and maybe, one day, break a world record.

Chunking

Let’s start with “chunking.” If you have watched my video explaining short-term memory, you have already heard a bit about this mnemonic device.

Short-term memory storage can only hold 5-9 items of information at a time. But they can store up to four chunks of information. Chunking is an effective way to learn and recall more pieces of information.

The process of “chunking” information is explained in the name. If you are given multiple pieces of information to memorize, chunk it into groups. The groups could be based on the position in which you learn the information, similarities between the pieces of information that you need to memorize, or anything that helps you remember the information.

One example of “chunking” is the way that we memorize phone numbers. We split the ten numbers into three “chunks:”

  • The three-digit area code
  • The first three digits of the “actual” number
  • The last four digits of the number

Even if you can’t normally remember ten numbers in sequential order, you are likely to remember three “chunks” of information.

Acronym

An acronym is a simple abbreviation for a phrase that makes the phrase ordering easier to remember.

Think back to your grade school days. Can you recall what PEMDAS means? Go back even further to preschool - what does ROY G BIV stand for?

These are all examples of acronyms.

It’s not easy to remember “Parentheses Exponents Multiplication Division Addition Subtraction” in order on a math test. But PEMDAS is just one word. Ten years after your last math class, PEMDAS is likely to stick.

That’s the beauty of an acronym. It’s a single word, or maybe a phrase or title, that reveals a lot of information that you otherwise would not be able to remember in the correct order.

Acrostic

But some people don’t remember PEMDAS as PEMDAS. They remember it as “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” If you were taught this trick to remember how to solve math problems, you weren’t using an acronym. You were using an acrostic poem to help you remember information in an important order.

An acrostic is when you turn an acronym into a sentence to increase the likelihood of recalling it.

Take a moment to think of some other examples of acrostic poems.

“Every Good Boy Does Fine” is probably familiar to people who took an elementary school music class.

“My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” is a great way to remember the order of the planets in our solar system.

The sillier they are, the easier they are to remember!

This is a great method for creating a secure password. Think of an obscure quote from a movie or a phrase that you can easily recall. For example, think of the famous line “May the Force Be With You” from Star Wars. That sentence is too long to be a password, but “MtfBwU” is a pretty strong password that is easy for you to remember, but hard for hackers to guess. Add some numbers and the strength increases.

Example 1: A More Organized Grocery List

A grocery list of 15+ items can be hard to memorize. Inevitably, something is going to get lost unless you have a memory device to help you out. For lists of over seven or so items, chunking might be your best bet.

Have you ever seen grocery lists that are organized by section? The list chunks together all of the produce you need to buy, dairy items that you need to buy, grains, household supplies, etc. This is a classic example of chunking. Remembering 15 items in an unorganized fashion can be tough. It’s easier to remember three sets of five items that go together.

Example 2: Rhyming Mnemonics

Songs can get stuck in your head quicker than some text. One type of mnemonic device is making the information you need to learn into a sort of song or poem. You can do this by setting the information to music. The ABC song is a great way to remember information because the tune is so memorable. Or, you can simply use rhymes.

There are plenty of rhymes that we use to learn basic history or math information. How about this:

“Thirty days hath September….” You probably already know how to finish the sentence. “April, June, and November!” Other variations of this rhyme add on even more information about the months that have 31 or 28 days.

Here’s another one. Do you remember when Amerigo Vespucci set sail from Portugal? Probably not. But you probably remember when Columbus embarked on his big journey. Why? “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!”

And who could forget the rhyme used to help us with spelling?

“I before e except after c, or when sounding like a, like neighbor and weigh.” How many times have you repeated that to yourself while writing words like “piece” or “neighbor?”

Example 3: Different Spelling Mnemonics

Breaking down hard-to-spell words into phrases could help you spell them correctly. Here are two examples that I use when I get stuck with spelling.

The first phrase I use is Wednesday: “Wed Nes Day.” Sure, this one doesn’t flow so well, but it can help to break down the different parts of spelling “Wednesday.” You won’t forget the hidden E between the N and the S!

Here’s another one. If you’ve ever seen Bruce Almighty, you have probably heard this one before. Throughout the film, Jim Carrey’s character sarcastically says, “B-E-A-Utiful.” People who previously had a hard time spelling the word beautiful probably found that film to be very helpful!

Example 4: Everyday Organizations and Medical Terms

Acronyms are all around us. You might not remember the term “Subscriber Identity Module,” but you do know what a “SIM” card is. It’s a mouthful to mention that a member of the Special Weapons And Tactics team was present at work, so most people just say “SWAT” team.

Medical terms are much more approachable when they are cut down into an easy-to-understand acronym. It’s quicker to tell someone that they have HIV rather than “Human Immunodeficiency Virus.” Telling a child that they have “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” can sound quite scary - ADHD is much easier to communicate.

Terms like radar, CAPTCHA, and TED (as in TED talk) all come from acronyms. These easy-to-remember words and terms have become so integrated into our lives that you probably don’t even know all of them stand for longer phrases!

Other Types of Mnemonic Devices

These aren’t the only memory tricks in the book. The following techniques also fall under the broad category of “mnemonic devices”:

  1. Using an image to remember the order or arrangement of things
  2. Putting information to a melody and singing that melody when you need to recall it (i.e. the ABCs)
  3. Using phrases to remember patterns (“I before E except after C”)

Famous Mnemonists

If you are interested in learning more about mnemonics, I recommend that you look to the experts. Yes, you can be a famous mnemonist. This professionals are known for their extraordinary memories. These memories aren’t the result of a strange gene or disorder: they are just skilled in the art of mnemonics.

One of the most famous mnemonists of all time was simply called “S” for decades. He is described in the book “The Mind of a Mnemonist” from 1968. While the book is slightly fabricated and dramatized, it tells the fascinating story of a man who, it seemed, could remember just about anything. Further reporting and research revealed that S, whose full name was Solomon Shereshevsky, was not a man with a photographic memory. He was just a skilled mnemonist.

Many mnemonists have followed in his footsteps. In the 1980s, two mnemonists made The Guinness Book of World Records for reciting over 30,000 digits of pi from memory. The current record holder was able to recite the first 40,000 digits of pi from memory.

The World Memory Championships has taken place every single year since 1993. One of the most memorable winners is Alex Mullen. Mullen was the first American to win the World Memory Championships, and he has achieved the highest score in the history of the competition.

Want to be the next Alex Mullen? It’s going to take a lot of work. But acrostics, acronyms, and other memory tricks can help you get there!


Parent Cortical Mass

How many items can you hold in mind at one time before they start tumbling out of memory? Cognitive scientists have determined that the most we can remember of a list of unfamiliar items is between 5 and 9 items.  Or, about 2 seconds worth of what we can repeat, out loud or to ourselves.  

Decades of research have firmly established these limitations. Happily, there’s a way around this cap on memory.  It happens automatically, as well as deliberately.  It’s called “chunking.”

The Magical Number 7 Plus or Minus 2

If you've heard “chunking” before, then the chances are you have associated the number 7 with the term. 

George A. Miller, one of the top scientists of the 20th century, in his classic 1956 paper, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," coined the terms "working memory" and "chunking."  He discovered that the number of digits people could hold in mind before their memory overloaded was remarkably consistent across all people.  So pervasive was this number that his famous article opened with, “My problem is that I’ve been persecuted by an integer.”

Miller also observed that people would remember more items if they were grouped, or chunked.  The most common example of chunking is the telephone number.  Remembering ten digits, such as 5 4 1 5 5 5 3 2 2 6 is hardly possible, but if the ten digits are chunked into three units, 541-555-3226, remembering all ten numbers is easily done.  The 10 digits then become just 3 chunks to remember.  

If you think you can hold more than 7 digits in memory, most likely you have chunked the digits. 

Chunking and Learning

Chunking is a fundamental operation in learning.  Bits of information combine to form a chunk, chunks cluster with other chunks, and so on.  Because of this consolidating process, a chunk can represent a great deal of compressed information.  Think how much data you’ve chunked with the words, “United States.”

When kids learn to read, they must first link a letter’s name with the correct squiggly-line depiction.  The letter’s name must then couple with the sound(s) it makes.  Strings of sounds must connect to “read” a word.  Imagine how much easier it is for kids to “sound out” words they’ve heard many times otherwise, the stringed-together sounds don't make much sense.  

Familiar words are much easier to hold in working memory than unfamiliar words. Because the word "pig" is familiar, it takes up very little mental space.  Contrast “pig” with "babirusa." What? “Babirusa” is not just unfamiliar, its four syllables worth of unfamiliar, which takes much more effort to keep in memory. But if a babirusa is familiar--maybe you were enchanted by one at the zoo, or you grew up in Indonesia--it takes as little effort to hold in mind as does “pig.” Being familiar with many words gives children a working memory advantage when learning to read.  

Chunks of knowledge build up background knowledge in our long term memory.  Chunking is how we hack the limits of working memory.

Chunking and Expertise

Researchers discovered that experts’ knowledge is chunked quite differently than novices’.  Andreas Ericsson, who discovered and coined the 10,000 Hour Rule, used chunking differently from George A. Miller’s reference to groupings of digits or unfamiliar items. 

Ericsson noticed that chess masters retrieved knowledge from long term memory around meaningful game patterns that novices did not see or understand. He discovered that experts in general comprehend the major problem types in their fields and retrieve only information relevant to the specific problem they are considering.  They skillfully avoid overloading their working memory with oodles of related but unorganized ideas, allowing them to think about enormous amounts of information with relative ease. It takes years of deep thinking about a domain of knowledge to chunk like an expert.

The path of gaining deep knowledge goes from the modest beginnings of hearing words in early life, to chunking bits of general knowledge into useful clusters, to building a storehouse of topic-rich background knowledge, to thinking about problems at the right level of difficulty, and to organizing knowledge in meaningful patterns along the track toward expertise.

How Can Parents Build Skills To Use Chunking More Effectively?

We hope our kids get assigned to teachers who explain well, who manage the dynamics of chunking and working memory with finesse. Like teachers, parents are also in the business of managing kids' chunking and working memory processes, even if they don't fully realize it.  There are many ways parents can use chunking more skillfully with their children. Here are a few.

Expose your kids to many chunks of information

You already do this, but if you do it with greater awareness, your kids will benefit.  Notice what interests them and add a few bits of information about it.  Bit by bit is best, otherwise you’ll overload them.  Kids with a treasure of chunked general knowledge find school work more intriguing simply because familiar topics pique interest.

Don't confuse an overloaded working memory with “not minding" 

Certainly kids defy our direction at times.  On the other hand, sometimes parents mistakenly think their kids are misbehaving when really their memory just overloaded.  What seems like a simple set of instructions to a parent, for a kid might involve too many steps.  Kids don't reach their full capacity of working memory until the age of 11 or 12.  

Teach kids how to chunk deliberately

Show kids how chunking information into groups makes remembering easier.  Also, when kids are learning something new, ask if the new information reminds them of anything they already know. Associating is chunking. Or, just make a connection for them, by telling how a new piece of information is like something they already know. Tying new information to what is already known is chunking.  

This article is just a teeny chunk of what there is to understand about this topic.  Below are resources to learn more.

"How Knowledge Helps," by Daniel T. Willingham, describes the learning advantages of background knowledge and mentions chunking eighteen times in the explanation.

"Working Memory and School Performance," a Psychology Today article by Torkel Klingberg, author of two books: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory and most recently The Learning Brain: Memory and Brain Development in Children (Oxford University Press).

"A Wealth of Words," a City Journal article by E. D. Hirsch explains brilliantly about chunking and reading, saying, "Words are fantastically effective chunking devices."

"How to Be a Better Test Taker," a New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul, says, "Find associations and think in chunks."

"The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," the classic article by George A. Miller, Psychological Review.

Chapter 2 and 6 of Why Don’t Student’s Like School, Daniel T. Willingham, a PCM Top Ten Book for Parents.


What Is Chunking Psychology? Definition and Applications

Chunking may seem like a term that applies to some kind of recipe or craft project, but it also has psychological connotations. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines chunking as the process by which the brain divides larger pieces of data into smaller units (chunks), so they are easier to retain in short-term memory. In education as well as psychology, chunking is a way to bind together pieces of information so they are easier to understand and remember. In psychology, a chunk is defined as a collection of similar units or pieces of information combined into one group. This makes it easier to recall larger groups of data, including words and numbers.

Everyone's brain chunks information. In fact, chunking has an essential role in how certain psychological treatments work, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If this is your first time learning about chunking in psychology or how it relates to therapy, this article will help break things down for you.

Chunking When Recalling Letters or Numbers

The best way to learn phone numbers is to divide them into chunks. For the number 3124459900, for example, you would separate the numbers into the chunks 312-445-9900. Similarly, learning how to spell a word longer than seven letters, it is better to divide the word into smaller words or syllables, so that patternmaking would become pat-tern-making.

Large groups of text are chunked in the same way. For example, we read large paragraphs more easily if we separate them into smaller sections&mdashand we can absorb shorter lines of text better than larger ones. According to George A. Miller, humans are only able to remember seven pieces of information, plus or minus two. Therefore, when we need to recall data that has more than seven pieces, we can do so using chunking.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is the second stage of memory, as described by the Atkinson-Shiffrin model. Short-term memory holds about seven items on average, for between 15 and 30 seconds. Short-term memory has three facets, as follows:

  • Limited capacity can hold approximately seven items on average.
  • Limited duration means that information can become lost quickly, within 30 seconds or less.
  • Encoding is done mainly by hearing, sometimes changing visual information into sounds.

Your memory's capacity includes the recency effect and span (or duration). The recency effect means that you will recall the last items of data in a list before the middle ones. Span or duration refers to how long you can retain that information in your memory before it disappears&mdashagain, this is 15 to 30 seconds on average. You can use shortcuts and tricks to store more information for a longer period, such as repeating the data verbally (acoustic encoding) or chunking the data together to reduce the amount of data to be recalled.

Working Memory

Working memory is the part of short-term memory used to store data that is actively in use. It is defined as the ability to manage and store data in your mind for a short period. Your working memory is used when concentrating, following instructions, and learning subjects such as math and reading. There are two types of working memory: visual-spatial (seeing) memory and auditory (hearing) memory. Understanding working memory is essential when helping those with a learning disorder such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia, where this aspect of memory is impaired.

Chunking in Learning

Chunking is useful for more than just recalling visual or auditory information. For example, we use chunking in our motor learning every day. When we break up large tasks into shorter blocks of time, we are using the chunking method. When learning a new task, we typically separate the instructions into steps, and then perform each step separately, with a pause between each step. Once we have learned the task, we still tend to pause between each successive step, which qualifies as a chunk.

In addition, recording linguistics is how humans process their thoughts. Recoding methods such as chunking can be found in almost every area of human learning from reading to writing, thoughts to actions. Since each person perceives the world uniquely, specific chunks will differ from person to person. However, as a rule, trying to store more than nine items in one's mind will result in the brain dumping the oldest memories to make room for new ones. This is because these items have not been stored in long-term memory, which takes place only after performing a task repeatedly.

Miller's Chunking Theory

When using Miller&rsquos chunking theory or law, the ability to recall information rises tenfold. This theory includes Miller's Magic Number, which is 7 ± 2. The number seven is the average amount of data a person can store in his or her short-term memory. The ability to chunk data into smaller sections gives the individual a way to remember more information. For example, your short-term memory can recall about seven words, but if you group words into chunks of four similar words, you can recall 28 instead.

Chunking in Psychology

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with psychology. The answer is simple. Psychology addresses mental processes, and chunking is involved in most of them. For example, cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes such as thinking, creativity, problem solving, perception, memory, language usage, and attention. These processes are key to much psychological research, such as the areas of developmental, abnormal, personality, social, and educational psychology, and the resulting treatment modalities. When using psychological modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy, we are teaching the individual how to retrain their behavior, thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Chunking psychology makes it easier to absorb and remember the information.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is used in many aspects of psychology, sociology, and behaviorism. In CBT, cognition is thought, and behavior refers to action. CBT is an empirically supported therapy that helps restructure the thoughts of individuals suffering from mental health disorders from depression to anxiety. In fact, many studies have found CBT to be more effective than medication in treating depression. The idea behind CBT is that your actions are a product of your feelings, which are shaped by beliefs and thoughts. Therefore, changing your thoughts and beliefs can help change your actions by altering your feelings. Chunking is used in CBT when clients are challenged to detect or isolate negative thoughts, and replace them with more accurate, positive ones.

Social Anxiety Disorder and CBT

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry or fear about one or more social situations, such as social gatherings. Those with this disorder are typically afraid of being exposed to negative scrutiny by others, which can cause them to avoid many types of social situations. Such avoidance can cause major disturbances in one's day-to-day activities. With CBT, you can learn to change maladaptive behavior by changing your thoughts, and therefore create the freedom for meaningful social interactions. When you use chunking to store more data in your short-term memory, you can learn faster and remember more, and the therapy becomes more effective.

Depression and CBT

Learning to change or control your thoughts in order to change your feelings is beneficial in treating depression, as well. Unlike some other treatments including psychodynamic therapy, CBT focuses on current issues rather than ones from the past.

There are many other mental health conditions that can be treated with CBT as well, which include:

  • Addictions
  • Sleep problems
  • Eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia
  • Specific phobias and fears
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Behavioral problems
  • Learning disorders

BetterHelp Can Help

Recent research points to online platforms as useful, accessible alternatives to in-person counseling for providing CBT, along with other forms of therapy. A broad-based study published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy found that internet-based CBT is effective in treating depression, panic, and anxiety disorders. Mental health professionals can utilize online therapy platforms to guide those who are seeking treatment through a CBT plan, which can include counseling sessions, as well as interactive exercises and lessons. Online therapy is widely considered a more accessible mental health service than traditional face-to-face counseling due to lower costs, flexible scheduling, and fewer geographic restrictions.

As discussed above, if you have a mental or emotional condition that is interfering with your quality of life, online therapy is a useful option. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you don&rsquot have to wait for an appointment, which can take weeks or even months. And as opposed to in-person therapy, online therapy through BetterHelp can be done completely anonymously. Before you begin, we recommend that you read a couple of reviews to see how others have used BetterHelp's online services to improve their learning and overall happiness.


Chunking: more chunks or more items? - Psychology

Chunking or Clustering is a way to break up or divide up large amounts of information into smaller pieces that are "digestible" or easier to remember. Our "working memory" or short-term memory only holds seven to nine items of information at a time it can be likened to a table that can only accommodate so many items before one falls off. If these items are clumps or clusters of information, then more information can be packed into a cluster and moved to long-term memory.

For example, the alphabet can be chunked in several ways:

ABCD EFG HIJK LMNOP QRS TUV WXYZ

ABC DEF GHI JKL MNO PQR STU VW XYZ

If you work on memorizing the alphabet backwards, you will soon be aware of how helpful chunking can be. Here is the alphabet backwards as well as two ways (more are possible) to arrange the alphabet backwards in chunks. Which do you prefer? See how many times you need to practice memorizing this to remember it. At some point in your memorization process, try to memorize each chunk as one idea, not three or four separate letters. After you memorize the entire alphabet, you can work on improving your time -- how fast you it takes you to say the alphabet backwards.

Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J H I G F E D C B A

Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J H I G F E D C B A

Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J H I G F E D C B A

  1. George Washington, 1789-1797
  2. John Adams, 1797-1801
  3. Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809
  4. James Madison, 1809-1817
  5. James Monroe, 1817-1825
  6. John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829
  7. Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837
  8. Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841
  9. William Henry Harrison, 1841
  10. John Tyler, 1841-1845
  11. James Polk, 1845-1849
  12. Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850
  13. Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
  14. Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857
  15. James Buchanan, 1857-1861
  16. Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865

This straight, unchunked list might seem a bit formidable as something to memorize.

First, your question: why are we doing this?
Answer: Although it might seem somewhat old-fashioned, see if having a skeleton or scaffold for adding information helps you learn and retain details and see relationships and connections more easily. Try these websites for more information: Wikipedia: Lists of the Presidents of the United States and White House.gov: About the Presidents

Since 4 x 4 = 16 (really?), let's try this in groups of four. Experiment memorizing them in this way. Does clumping them up in groups of four help or is it just as easy to memorizing them in the list above? At some point during your memorization session, try saying the four last names in each group fast, almost as if they are one word. This will help your mind perceive them as one clump. (When doing this, you could call John Quincy Adams "Quincy Adams" to keep it fast.)

Another method to help memorize them is with mnenomics, or creating a silly statement that is memorable and can be linked back to the actual names. Try this website for suggestions along these lines.


What are Mnemonics?

Mnemonics are memory tricks that can help you remember long strings of information, often in a particular order. You have been using mnemonic devices since. well, before you can remember!

Mnemonic devices have helped people achieve phenomenal feats in the world of memory. Get to know these tricks and devices. You can use them to help you remember phone numbers, create a more secure password, and maybe, one day, break a world record.

Chunking

Let’s start with “chunking.” If you have watched my video explaining short-term memory, you have already heard a bit about this mnemonic device.

Short-term memory storage can only hold 5-9 items of information at a time. But they can store up to four chunks of information. Chunking is an effective way to learn and recall more pieces of information.

The process of “chunking” information is explained in the name. If you are given multiple pieces of information to memorize, chunk it into groups. The groups could be based on the position in which you learn the information, similarities between the pieces of information that you need to memorize, or anything that helps you remember the information.

One example of “chunking” is the way that we memorize phone numbers. We split the ten numbers into three “chunks:”

  • The three-digit area code
  • The first three digits of the “actual” number
  • The last four digits of the number

Even if you can’t normally remember ten numbers in sequential order, you are likely to remember three “chunks” of information.

Acronym

An acronym is a simple abbreviation for a phrase that makes the phrase ordering easier to remember.

Think back to your grade school days. Can you recall what PEMDAS means? Go back even further to preschool - what does ROY G BIV stand for?

These are all examples of acronyms.

It’s not easy to remember “Parentheses Exponents Multiplication Division Addition Subtraction” in order on a math test. But PEMDAS is just one word. Ten years after your last math class, PEMDAS is likely to stick.

That’s the beauty of an acronym. It’s a single word, or maybe a phrase or title, that reveals a lot of information that you otherwise would not be able to remember in the correct order.

Acrostic

But some people don’t remember PEMDAS as PEMDAS. They remember it as “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” If you were taught this trick to remember how to solve math problems, you weren’t using an acronym. You were using an acrostic poem to help you remember information in an important order.

An acrostic is when you turn an acronym into a sentence to increase the likelihood of recalling it.

Take a moment to think of some other examples of acrostic poems.

“Every Good Boy Does Fine” is probably familiar to people who took an elementary school music class.

“My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” is a great way to remember the order of the planets in our solar system.

The sillier they are, the easier they are to remember!

This is a great method for creating a secure password. Think of an obscure quote from a movie or a phrase that you can easily recall. For example, think of the famous line “May the Force Be With You” from Star Wars. That sentence is too long to be a password, but “MtfBwU” is a pretty strong password that is easy for you to remember, but hard for hackers to guess. Add some numbers and the strength increases.

Example 1: A More Organized Grocery List

A grocery list of 15+ items can be hard to memorize. Inevitably, something is going to get lost unless you have a memory device to help you out. For lists of over seven or so items, chunking might be your best bet.

Have you ever seen grocery lists that are organized by section? The list chunks together all of the produce you need to buy, dairy items that you need to buy, grains, household supplies, etc. This is a classic example of chunking. Remembering 15 items in an unorganized fashion can be tough. It’s easier to remember three sets of five items that go together.

Example 2: Rhyming Mnemonics

Songs can get stuck in your head quicker than some text. One type of mnemonic device is making the information you need to learn into a sort of song or poem. You can do this by setting the information to music. The ABC song is a great way to remember information because the tune is so memorable. Or, you can simply use rhymes.

There are plenty of rhymes that we use to learn basic history or math information. How about this:

“Thirty days hath September….” You probably already know how to finish the sentence. “April, June, and November!” Other variations of this rhyme add on even more information about the months that have 31 or 28 days.

Here’s another one. Do you remember when Amerigo Vespucci set sail from Portugal? Probably not. But you probably remember when Columbus embarked on his big journey. Why? “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!”

And who could forget the rhyme used to help us with spelling?

“I before e except after c, or when sounding like a, like neighbor and weigh.” How many times have you repeated that to yourself while writing words like “piece” or “neighbor?”

Example 3: Different Spelling Mnemonics

Breaking down hard-to-spell words into phrases could help you spell them correctly. Here are two examples that I use when I get stuck with spelling.

The first phrase I use is Wednesday: “Wed Nes Day.” Sure, this one doesn’t flow so well, but it can help to break down the different parts of spelling “Wednesday.” You won’t forget the hidden E between the N and the S!

Here’s another one. If you’ve ever seen Bruce Almighty, you have probably heard this one before. Throughout the film, Jim Carrey’s character sarcastically says, “B-E-A-Utiful.” People who previously had a hard time spelling the word beautiful probably found that film to be very helpful!

Example 4: Everyday Organizations and Medical Terms

Acronyms are all around us. You might not remember the term “Subscriber Identity Module,” but you do know what a “SIM” card is. It’s a mouthful to mention that a member of the Special Weapons And Tactics team was present at work, so most people just say “SWAT” team.

Medical terms are much more approachable when they are cut down into an easy-to-understand acronym. It’s quicker to tell someone that they have HIV rather than “Human Immunodeficiency Virus.” Telling a child that they have “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” can sound quite scary - ADHD is much easier to communicate.

Terms like radar, CAPTCHA, and TED (as in TED talk) all come from acronyms. These easy-to-remember words and terms have become so integrated into our lives that you probably don’t even know all of them stand for longer phrases!

Other Types of Mnemonic Devices

These aren’t the only memory tricks in the book. The following techniques also fall under the broad category of “mnemonic devices”:

  1. Using an image to remember the order or arrangement of things
  2. Putting information to a melody and singing that melody when you need to recall it (i.e. the ABCs)
  3. Using phrases to remember patterns (“I before E except after C”)

Famous Mnemonists

If you are interested in learning more about mnemonics, I recommend that you look to the experts. Yes, you can be a famous mnemonist. This professionals are known for their extraordinary memories. These memories aren’t the result of a strange gene or disorder: they are just skilled in the art of mnemonics.

One of the most famous mnemonists of all time was simply called “S” for decades. He is described in the book “The Mind of a Mnemonist” from 1968. While the book is slightly fabricated and dramatized, it tells the fascinating story of a man who, it seemed, could remember just about anything. Further reporting and research revealed that S, whose full name was Solomon Shereshevsky, was not a man with a photographic memory. He was just a skilled mnemonist.

Many mnemonists have followed in his footsteps. In the 1980s, two mnemonists made The Guinness Book of World Records for reciting over 30,000 digits of pi from memory. The current record holder was able to recite the first 40,000 digits of pi from memory.

The World Memory Championships has taken place every single year since 1993. One of the most memorable winners is Alex Mullen. Mullen was the first American to win the World Memory Championships, and he has achieved the highest score in the history of the competition.

Want to be the next Alex Mullen? It’s going to take a lot of work. But acrostics, acronyms, and other memory tricks can help you get there!


Parent Cortical Mass

How many items can you hold in mind at one time before they start tumbling out of memory? Cognitive scientists have determined that the most we can remember of a list of unfamiliar items is between 5 and 9 items.  Or, about 2 seconds worth of what we can repeat, out loud or to ourselves.  

Decades of research have firmly established these limitations. Happily, there’s a way around this cap on memory.  It happens automatically, as well as deliberately.  It’s called “chunking.”

The Magical Number 7 Plus or Minus 2

If you've heard “chunking” before, then the chances are you have associated the number 7 with the term. 

George A. Miller, one of the top scientists of the 20th century, in his classic 1956 paper, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," coined the terms "working memory" and "chunking."  He discovered that the number of digits people could hold in mind before their memory overloaded was remarkably consistent across all people.  So pervasive was this number that his famous article opened with, “My problem is that I’ve been persecuted by an integer.”

Miller also observed that people would remember more items if they were grouped, or chunked.  The most common example of chunking is the telephone number.  Remembering ten digits, such as 5 4 1 5 5 5 3 2 2 6 is hardly possible, but if the ten digits are chunked into three units, 541-555-3226, remembering all ten numbers is easily done.  The 10 digits then become just 3 chunks to remember.  

If you think you can hold more than 7 digits in memory, most likely you have chunked the digits. 

Chunking and Learning

Chunking is a fundamental operation in learning.  Bits of information combine to form a chunk, chunks cluster with other chunks, and so on.  Because of this consolidating process, a chunk can represent a great deal of compressed information.  Think how much data you’ve chunked with the words, “United States.”

When kids learn to read, they must first link a letter’s name with the correct squiggly-line depiction.  The letter’s name must then couple with the sound(s) it makes.  Strings of sounds must connect to “read” a word.  Imagine how much easier it is for kids to “sound out” words they’ve heard many times otherwise, the stringed-together sounds don't make much sense.  

Familiar words are much easier to hold in working memory than unfamiliar words. Because the word "pig" is familiar, it takes up very little mental space.  Contrast “pig” with "babirusa." What? “Babirusa” is not just unfamiliar, its four syllables worth of unfamiliar, which takes much more effort to keep in memory. But if a babirusa is familiar--maybe you were enchanted by one at the zoo, or you grew up in Indonesia--it takes as little effort to hold in mind as does “pig.” Being familiar with many words gives children a working memory advantage when learning to read.  

Chunks of knowledge build up background knowledge in our long term memory.  Chunking is how we hack the limits of working memory.

Chunking and Expertise

Researchers discovered that experts’ knowledge is chunked quite differently than novices’.  Andreas Ericsson, who discovered and coined the 10,000 Hour Rule, used chunking differently from George A. Miller’s reference to groupings of digits or unfamiliar items. 

Ericsson noticed that chess masters retrieved knowledge from long term memory around meaningful game patterns that novices did not see or understand. He discovered that experts in general comprehend the major problem types in their fields and retrieve only information relevant to the specific problem they are considering.  They skillfully avoid overloading their working memory with oodles of related but unorganized ideas, allowing them to think about enormous amounts of information with relative ease. It takes years of deep thinking about a domain of knowledge to chunk like an expert.

The path of gaining deep knowledge goes from the modest beginnings of hearing words in early life, to chunking bits of general knowledge into useful clusters, to building a storehouse of topic-rich background knowledge, to thinking about problems at the right level of difficulty, and to organizing knowledge in meaningful patterns along the track toward expertise.

How Can Parents Build Skills To Use Chunking More Effectively?

We hope our kids get assigned to teachers who explain well, who manage the dynamics of chunking and working memory with finesse. Like teachers, parents are also in the business of managing kids' chunking and working memory processes, even if they don't fully realize it.  There are many ways parents can use chunking more skillfully with their children. Here are a few.

Expose your kids to many chunks of information

You already do this, but if you do it with greater awareness, your kids will benefit.  Notice what interests them and add a few bits of information about it.  Bit by bit is best, otherwise you’ll overload them.  Kids with a treasure of chunked general knowledge find school work more intriguing simply because familiar topics pique interest.

Don't confuse an overloaded working memory with “not minding" 

Certainly kids defy our direction at times.  On the other hand, sometimes parents mistakenly think their kids are misbehaving when really their memory just overloaded.  What seems like a simple set of instructions to a parent, for a kid might involve too many steps.  Kids don't reach their full capacity of working memory until the age of 11 or 12.  

Teach kids how to chunk deliberately

Show kids how chunking information into groups makes remembering easier.  Also, when kids are learning something new, ask if the new information reminds them of anything they already know. Associating is chunking. Or, just make a connection for them, by telling how a new piece of information is like something they already know. Tying new information to what is already known is chunking.  

This article is just a teeny chunk of what there is to understand about this topic.  Below are resources to learn more.

"How Knowledge Helps," by Daniel T. Willingham, describes the learning advantages of background knowledge and mentions chunking eighteen times in the explanation.

"Working Memory and School Performance," a Psychology Today article by Torkel Klingberg, author of two books: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory and most recently The Learning Brain: Memory and Brain Development in Children (Oxford University Press).

"A Wealth of Words," a City Journal article by E. D. Hirsch explains brilliantly about chunking and reading, saying, "Words are fantastically effective chunking devices."

"How to Be a Better Test Taker," a New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul, says, "Find associations and think in chunks."

"The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," the classic article by George A. Miller, Psychological Review.

Chapter 2 and 6 of Why Don’t Student’s Like School, Daniel T. Willingham, a PCM Top Ten Book for Parents.


Chunking: more chunks or more items? - Psychology

Chunking or Clustering is a way to break up or divide up large amounts of information into smaller pieces that are "digestible" or easier to remember. Our "working memory" or short-term memory only holds seven to nine items of information at a time it can be likened to a table that can only accommodate so many items before one falls off. If these items are clumps or clusters of information, then more information can be packed into a cluster and moved to long-term memory.

For example, the alphabet can be chunked in several ways:

ABCD EFG HIJK LMNOP QRS TUV WXYZ

ABC DEF GHI JKL MNO PQR STU VW XYZ

If you work on memorizing the alphabet backwards, you will soon be aware of how helpful chunking can be. Here is the alphabet backwards as well as two ways (more are possible) to arrange the alphabet backwards in chunks. Which do you prefer? See how many times you need to practice memorizing this to remember it. At some point in your memorization process, try to memorize each chunk as one idea, not three or four separate letters. After you memorize the entire alphabet, you can work on improving your time -- how fast you it takes you to say the alphabet backwards.

Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J H I G F E D C B A

Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J H I G F E D C B A

Z Y X W V U T S R Q P O N M L K J H I G F E D C B A

  1. George Washington, 1789-1797
  2. John Adams, 1797-1801
  3. Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809
  4. James Madison, 1809-1817
  5. James Monroe, 1817-1825
  6. John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829
  7. Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837
  8. Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841
  9. William Henry Harrison, 1841
  10. John Tyler, 1841-1845
  11. James Polk, 1845-1849
  12. Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850
  13. Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
  14. Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857
  15. James Buchanan, 1857-1861
  16. Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865

This straight, unchunked list might seem a bit formidable as something to memorize.

First, your question: why are we doing this?
Answer: Although it might seem somewhat old-fashioned, see if having a skeleton or scaffold for adding information helps you learn and retain details and see relationships and connections more easily. Try these websites for more information: Wikipedia: Lists of the Presidents of the United States and White House.gov: About the Presidents

Since 4 x 4 = 16 (really?), let's try this in groups of four. Experiment memorizing them in this way. Does clumping them up in groups of four help or is it just as easy to memorizing them in the list above? At some point during your memorization session, try saying the four last names in each group fast, almost as if they are one word. This will help your mind perceive them as one clump. (When doing this, you could call John Quincy Adams "Quincy Adams" to keep it fast.)

Another method to help memorize them is with mnenomics, or creating a silly statement that is memorable and can be linked back to the actual names. Try this website for suggestions along these lines.


What Makes Chunking Such An Effective Way To Learn?

How is chunking memory more efficient than normal memorizing? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Robert Frost, Instructional design specialist, on Quora:

How is chunking memory more efficient than normal memorizing?

The words in the question aren’t being used in a truly compatible manner. Chunking refers to the organization of information. The process of encoding memories into long term memory for later recall is the same whether the information is chunked or unchunked.

Chunking is a tool for getting around the bottleneck of short-term memory. The average person can only manipulate seven pieces of information in short-term memory, at a time.

In 1956, George Miller of Harvard published a paper, in Psychological Review, titled The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Miller’s paper resulted from a series of cognitive load experiments he and others conducted. Miller determined that people could handle between five and nine pieces of information, seven is simply the mean.

However, Miller introduced a term called “chunking”. He determined that people could store more information if they were able to chunk or combine some pieces of information.

For example, let’s look at an American phone number.

A modern American phone number is ten digits long. It used to be that just the last seven could be used for local calls, but nowadays most systems require all ten. The phone number I used is one from Houston, Texas. In Houston, there are three big area codes: 713, 281, and 832. If you live in Houston, after a while, each of these area codes cease to be treated as three discrete pieces of information. The area code becomes one piece of information, reducing the total sum of pieces of information. The three bits of information seven, one, and three have become a single concept 713.

The next three numbers, the prefix, can also become chunked if used a lot. These prefixes often refer to neighborhoods. And, sometimes people can treat the last four digits as two numbers. So, our ten digit number has the potential to become four pieces of information.

Chunking is one of the most fundamental ideas for a teacher to learn. A good teacher helps the students to handle a greater bandwidth of information by chunking that information. Chunking often takes advantage of existing information in our long term memory. For example, to recognize a person’s face, we draw upon several stored pieces of information about that face. When asked to recall the names of people that were in a room, we aren’t overloaded by all of the information because we have turned complicated faces into single pieces of information.

A related concept called cognitive loading builds upon these restrictions of our minds. Cognitive Load Theory says that the amount of information and interactions that must be processed simultaneously can either under-load or overload the finite amount of working memory. If overloaded, all elements must be processed before meaningful learning can continue. The more a person has to learn in a shorter period of time, the more difficult it is to process that information. Researchers such as Paul Chandler and John Sweller have written extensively on the implications of cognitive load theory on the format of instruction and learning.

Richard E. Mayer is an educational psychologist with more than 390 publications, including 23 books. He has developed a set of learning principles. One of those is the Segmenting Principle. That principle states that:

People learn better when a complex continuous lesson is broken into separate segments. Examples include breaking a complex figure into two or more smaller figures dealing with different parts of the original one presenting one graphic at a time rather than putting multiple graphics in the same figure or breaking a continuous presentation into short chunks that can be paced by the learner. The learner’s working memory is less likely to be overloaded with essential processing when the essential material is presented in bite-size chunks rather than as a whole continuous lesson.

Jerome Bruner is one of the founders of constructivism. His book The Process of Education led to significant experimentation and educational reform during the 1960s. Bruner’s theory of instruction identifies four characteristics of effective instruction (readiness, content structure, sequencing, and reinforcement). Combined, these principles lead to the idea of the spiral curriculum. Spiral learning refers to the idea of revisiting basic ideas over and over, building upon them and elaborating to the level of full understanding and mastery.

So, putting all of that together, we can deduce that learning will likely be most efficacious when:

1) It occurs in small chunks that can make it through the bottlenecks of short term memory and cognitive load and those chunks are designed to build upon each other.

2) Those series of chunks build upon each other by calling into use the material learned in earlier chunks, providing both repetition and connection opportunities.

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:


43. Chunking

The term chunking was introduced in a 1956 paper by George A. Miller, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two : Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information. Chunking breaks up long strings of information into units or chunks. The resulting chunks are easier to commit to working memory than a longer and uninterrupted string of information. Chunking appears to work across all mediums including but not limited to: text, sounds, pictures, and videos. Perhaps the simplest example of chunking is a phone number as displayed in Figure 1.

16047559385

Without chunking, the number is hard to remember.

1 604 755 9385

The breaking down of the number into more &ldquological&rdquo chunks makes the number easier to remember.

1 (604) 755-9385

The addition of deliminators can also make the chunking process even more effective.

In his original paper, Miller proposed that the maximum number of items (one number in a phone number would be an item) that should be chunked is 7 +/- 2. In other words, chunking enhances working memory most effectively when a string of information is broken into chunks of five to nine items.

More recently, Miller&rsquos contemporaries such as Broadbent (1975) have suggested that the working memory capacity is actually 4-6 items and others like LeCompte (1999) have argued for as few as three. In practice, a range of three to six bits (4+/-1) appears ideal for interaction design. To validate this practice, consider Figure 2 which examines different size chunks in the context of an Operating System License Key (this is a random number and not an actual key).

B17JQX84MEHP3JCXQV74QLVBE

An example of chunking that is > 7 +/- 1

B17JQX84MEHP3JC XQV74QLVBE

An example of chunking that is = 7 +/- 1

B17JQ X84ME HP3JC XQV74 QLVBE

An example of chunking that is = 4+/- 1

For most people, the last example would best facilitate a quick glance at one chunk of information, placement of the chunk in working memory, and the data entry of the chunk into the license key field. The end user could then repeat this process for the remaining four chunks.

43.1 for Interaction Design

The primary purpose of chunking is the enhancement of working memory. Chunking, therefore, should not be used when the information must be searched, scanned, or analyzed. Search engine results are an example of information that does not need to be memorized and therefore should not be chunked. If one where to constrain the number of results per page to five (4+/-1) then the end user could actually spend more time moving back and forth between pages (searching), comparing the various definitions (scanning), and deciding on the most appropriate definition (analyzing).

In short, Chunking should not be used as an argument for improved simplicity, legibility, or uncluttered page design. Many novice interaction practitioners unwittingly apply chunking in this manner (Bailey 2000) when they:

  • Constrain the number of items on a menu bar to five or six.
  • Place only five or six items in a pull down menu.
  • Apply &ldquoThe rule of six&rdquo to power point presentation or bulleted lists.
  • Never have more than five or six radio buttons or check boxes together.

None of the above examples are a valid use of chunking and arguably such misapplication of the chunking principle has led some to dismiss chunking as little more than a &ldquosuperstition&rdquo (Bailey 2000) or an &ldquoUrban legend&rdquo (Jones 2002). This is not to say that the above constraint should not be applied for other design reasons, rather that &ldquothe limits on our capacity for processing information&rdquo as described by Miller and others are not a proper justification in this context

43.2 for Interaction deign

Chunking is ideal when specific information must be memorized for later use. E-learning applications should make liberal use of chunking to aid in end-user memorization. Chunking is also ideal in environments where an interface must compete against other stimuli for the attention or working memory of the end user (car navigation systems, cell phone, public kiosks). Consider a health practitioner in an emergency room scenario. They are often:

  1. Barraged by a multitude of visual and auditory stimuli such as telephones ringing, people talking, and rapid movement.
  2. May have only moments to look at an interface to extract and memorize the important information.
  3. May need to enter this information into disparate systems without the benefit of referring back to the source.
  4. Use legacy systems that cannot be reprogrammed to repopulate or carry over data from one screen to the next
  5. Are not allowed to write down information due to privacy legislation.

In the above environment, effective use of chunking can improve the usability and effectiveness of an information system. In Figure 3, the left hand column (Column A) does not use chunking while the right hand column (Column B) does. Of the two scenarios, Column B makes it much easier and faster for a health practitioner to focus on and memorize the Patient ID, especially when faced with the sensory overload of an emergency room.

Column A - Without Chunking

Column B - With Chunking

Patient ID:678290234
Name: Joe Smith
DOB:02111973

Patient ID 6782 9023 4
Name: Joe Smith
DOB 02 / 11 / 1973

43.3 Summary

Chunking, when applied in its proper context, is a subtle but powerful design principle that can help improve the overall usefulness of systems. The primary goal of chunking is to help in situations where the commitment of information to working memory is required. Chunking helps in this process by breaking long strings of information into bit size chunks that are easier to remember, especially when the memory is faced with competing stimuli.


Chunking

In cognitive psychology and mnemonics, chunking refers to a strategy for making more efficient use of short-term memory by recoding information.

The word refers to a famous 1956 paper by George A. Miller, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two : Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information. At a time when information theory was beginning to be applied in psychology, Miller observed that whereas some human cognitive tasks fit the model of a "channel capacity" characterized by a roughly constant capacity in bits, short-term memory did not. A variety of studies could be summarized by saying that short term memory had a capacity of about "seven plus-or-minus two" chunks. Miller wrote that "With binary items the span is about nine and, although it drops to about five with monosyllabic English words, the difference is far less than the hypothesis of constant information would require. The span of immediate memory seems to be almost independent of the number of bits per chunk, at least over the range that has been examined to date." Miller acknowledged that "we are not very definite about what constitutes a chunk of information."

Miller noted that according to this theory, it should be possible to effectively increase short-term memory for low-information-content items by mentally recoding them into a smaller number of high-information-content items. "A man just beginning to learn radio-telegraphic code hears each dit and dah as a separate chunk. Soon he is able to organize these sounds into letters and then he can deal with the letters as chunks. Then the letters organize themselves as words, which are still larger chunks, and he begins to hear whole phrases." Thus, a telegrapher can effectively "remember" several dozen dits and dahs as a single phrase. Naive subjects can only remember about nine binary items, but Miller reports a 1954 experiment in which people were trained to listen to a string of binary digits and (in one case) mentally group them into groups of five, recode each group into a name (e.g "twenty-one" for 10101), and remember the names. With sufficient drill, people found it possible to remember as many as forty binary digits. Miller wrote:

"It is a little dramatic to watch a person get 40 binary digits in a row and then repeat them back without error. However, if you think of this merely as a mnemonic trick for extending the memory span, you will miss the more important point that is implicit in nearly all such mnemonic devices. The point is that recoding is an extremely powerful weapon for increasing the amount of information that we can deal with".

This kind of recoding is now often called chunking.


Chunking Increases Memory

Miller’s research showed that by organizing items into chunks short memory capacity can be substantially increased.

Miller discovered that an organized chunk of information functions as one item, and that a person could hold around seven chunks of information in short term working memory at the same time. These units or chunks can be thought of as seven containers each capable of holding one chunk of information in memory.

Individual letters can form into words words can be formed into sentences, and then even into stories. Thus, more than seven letters or words can be held in short-term or working memory.

Examples of Chunking

The classic example of chunking is numbers. It is much easier to remember three sets of numbers, instead of 8 or 10 seemingly random numbers strung together.


Three Information Processing Strategies – Part 1 – Chunking Information

By far, my favorite unit of study in my AP Psychology class is cognition. I love instructing on the many different aspects of memory (encoding, storage, retrieval, short-term/working memory, long-term memory, et cetera) and providing students with different strategies for enhancing their studying to retain more information. It is so cool to be able to tell students why spaced practice is a much more effective learning strategy than cramming for an assessment…and to have these types of conversations be part of my curriculum is a huge bonus.

Along these lines, there are three strategies included in my discussion with students aimed at giving them a few simple ‘tricks’ to retain more information. They’re quite simple, and they’ve probably heard of them before, but they are so woefully utilized. I think this may be due, in part, to their simplicity. Unfortunately, I believe that we’ve somewhat trained our students (and teachers) that the more complicated a new strategy is for learning or the more steps there are in an assignment, the better it is for learning. I often find this to be incorrect. Usually, what happens is the material to be learned is lost amongst a deluge of other information that is important for that particular assignment, but not for the overall understanding of the subject matter.* Don’t underestimate simple. Simple is good.

The first of the strategies is chunking of information breaking down a large swath of material into smaller, more easily digestible bits of information. This is usually mentioned along with a discussion of the capacity of short-term (AP Psychology focuses on George Miller’s 7 + or – 2). There’s a simple demonstration of short-term memory’s capacity, which nicely transitions into a discussion of chunkings benefit for learning. The demonstration goes something like this:

  1. Read a list of random digits out loud for students, beginning with 4 digits. Be sure to take care not to read them out with any obvious inflection and space the number about one second apart.
  2. After you’ve read the list, students should copy down the digits to the best of their ability.
  3. Read out the four digits again and see who got it wrong/right.

Continue these steps for five digits, then six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. Without fail, the more digits required to retain in short-term memory, the more errors students will make. This also highlights how fleeting information is in short-term memory when it is not rehearsed, increasing its ability to be stored in long-term memory.

When the demonstration gets to about eight digits, students may begin audibly chatting about how difficult this is and some may even stop participating out of frustration. Those that are maybe more inclined to be competitive will continue on and one or two may even get all of the digits written down correctly when nine and ten digits are recited by the teacher. However, a vast majority will not successfully complete this task. It is just asking too much of our short-term memory.

Now to introduce chunking.

I tell the students that I want to try one more set of ten digits and I promise they will be more successful if they give quality effort. At this point, I read off the school’s phone number. Instead of reading the digits off individually at a pace of about one digit per second, I read it much more “naturally”, like we normally speak phone numbers. At least, in the US, this means three chunks of information: 256-534-6830 (no, that’s not actually my school’s phone number. Somewhat magically, students are now able to remember ten different digits much more successfully. And I can almost see the thirty small light bulbs turn on above their heads in the classroom. They get it…but they’re not sure why, yet.

On the one hand, it’s clearly still ten digits to remember. On the other, the information has been chunked and the brain no longer processes the numbers as ten distinct bits of information to remember, but three or four chunks of information. So, short-term memory is now taxed much less and the ability to retain the material is much greater.

Now, how does this translate to the much bigger picture of retaining actual subject matter and not just random numbers?

I encourage students to look at their material to be learned and compare/contrast among the information. What similarities and/or differences do they notice? What categories do they notice? How can they chunk this material into smaller, meaningful bits along these lines? All of these questions are important to consider when chunking.

Not only are they experiencing the benefits on short-term memory by chunking the material, but they are also processing the information on a deeper level. This can also increase the possibility information will be retained. Instead of possibly seeing the different bits of information as singular facts, they are made to consider how the subject matter relates (For more on this topic, I encourage a read of this post).

So chunking can be quite effective and efficient for retention and learning. It also facilities a very healthy study habit for students and can be very widely applied across different grade levels and subjects. It’s a winner of a strategy.


What Is Chunking Psychology? Definition and Applications

Chunking may seem like a term that applies to some kind of recipe or craft project, but it also has psychological connotations. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines chunking as the process by which the brain divides larger pieces of data into smaller units (chunks), so they are easier to retain in short-term memory. In education as well as psychology, chunking is a way to bind together pieces of information so they are easier to understand and remember. In psychology, a chunk is defined as a collection of similar units or pieces of information combined into one group. This makes it easier to recall larger groups of data, including words and numbers.

Everyone's brain chunks information. In fact, chunking has an essential role in how certain psychological treatments work, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If this is your first time learning about chunking in psychology or how it relates to therapy, this article will help break things down for you.

Chunking When Recalling Letters or Numbers

The best way to learn phone numbers is to divide them into chunks. For the number 3124459900, for example, you would separate the numbers into the chunks 312-445-9900. Similarly, learning how to spell a word longer than seven letters, it is better to divide the word into smaller words or syllables, so that patternmaking would become pat-tern-making.

Large groups of text are chunked in the same way. For example, we read large paragraphs more easily if we separate them into smaller sections&mdashand we can absorb shorter lines of text better than larger ones. According to George A. Miller, humans are only able to remember seven pieces of information, plus or minus two. Therefore, when we need to recall data that has more than seven pieces, we can do so using chunking.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is the second stage of memory, as described by the Atkinson-Shiffrin model. Short-term memory holds about seven items on average, for between 15 and 30 seconds. Short-term memory has three facets, as follows:

  • Limited capacity can hold approximately seven items on average.
  • Limited duration means that information can become lost quickly, within 30 seconds or less.
  • Encoding is done mainly by hearing, sometimes changing visual information into sounds.

Your memory's capacity includes the recency effect and span (or duration). The recency effect means that you will recall the last items of data in a list before the middle ones. Span or duration refers to how long you can retain that information in your memory before it disappears&mdashagain, this is 15 to 30 seconds on average. You can use shortcuts and tricks to store more information for a longer period, such as repeating the data verbally (acoustic encoding) or chunking the data together to reduce the amount of data to be recalled.

Working Memory

Working memory is the part of short-term memory used to store data that is actively in use. It is defined as the ability to manage and store data in your mind for a short period. Your working memory is used when concentrating, following instructions, and learning subjects such as math and reading. There are two types of working memory: visual-spatial (seeing) memory and auditory (hearing) memory. Understanding working memory is essential when helping those with a learning disorder such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia, where this aspect of memory is impaired.

Chunking in Learning

Chunking is useful for more than just recalling visual or auditory information. For example, we use chunking in our motor learning every day. When we break up large tasks into shorter blocks of time, we are using the chunking method. When learning a new task, we typically separate the instructions into steps, and then perform each step separately, with a pause between each step. Once we have learned the task, we still tend to pause between each successive step, which qualifies as a chunk.

In addition, recording linguistics is how humans process their thoughts. Recoding methods such as chunking can be found in almost every area of human learning from reading to writing, thoughts to actions. Since each person perceives the world uniquely, specific chunks will differ from person to person. However, as a rule, trying to store more than nine items in one's mind will result in the brain dumping the oldest memories to make room for new ones. This is because these items have not been stored in long-term memory, which takes place only after performing a task repeatedly.

Miller's Chunking Theory

When using Miller&rsquos chunking theory or law, the ability to recall information rises tenfold. This theory includes Miller's Magic Number, which is 7 ± 2. The number seven is the average amount of data a person can store in his or her short-term memory. The ability to chunk data into smaller sections gives the individual a way to remember more information. For example, your short-term memory can recall about seven words, but if you group words into chunks of four similar words, you can recall 28 instead.

Chunking in Psychology

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with psychology. The answer is simple. Psychology addresses mental processes, and chunking is involved in most of them. For example, cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes such as thinking, creativity, problem solving, perception, memory, language usage, and attention. These processes are key to much psychological research, such as the areas of developmental, abnormal, personality, social, and educational psychology, and the resulting treatment modalities. When using psychological modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy, we are teaching the individual how to retrain their behavior, thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Chunking psychology makes it easier to absorb and remember the information.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is used in many aspects of psychology, sociology, and behaviorism. In CBT, cognition is thought, and behavior refers to action. CBT is an empirically supported therapy that helps restructure the thoughts of individuals suffering from mental health disorders from depression to anxiety. In fact, many studies have found CBT to be more effective than medication in treating depression. The idea behind CBT is that your actions are a product of your feelings, which are shaped by beliefs and thoughts. Therefore, changing your thoughts and beliefs can help change your actions by altering your feelings. Chunking is used in CBT when clients are challenged to detect or isolate negative thoughts, and replace them with more accurate, positive ones.

Social Anxiety Disorder and CBT

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry or fear about one or more social situations, such as social gatherings. Those with this disorder are typically afraid of being exposed to negative scrutiny by others, which can cause them to avoid many types of social situations. Such avoidance can cause major disturbances in one's day-to-day activities. With CBT, you can learn to change maladaptive behavior by changing your thoughts, and therefore create the freedom for meaningful social interactions. When you use chunking to store more data in your short-term memory, you can learn faster and remember more, and the therapy becomes more effective.

Depression and CBT

Learning to change or control your thoughts in order to change your feelings is beneficial in treating depression, as well. Unlike some other treatments including psychodynamic therapy, CBT focuses on current issues rather than ones from the past.

There are many other mental health conditions that can be treated with CBT as well, which include:

  • Addictions
  • Sleep problems
  • Eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia
  • Specific phobias and fears
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Behavioral problems
  • Learning disorders

BetterHelp Can Help

Recent research points to online platforms as useful, accessible alternatives to in-person counseling for providing CBT, along with other forms of therapy. A broad-based study published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy found that internet-based CBT is effective in treating depression, panic, and anxiety disorders. Mental health professionals can utilize online therapy platforms to guide those who are seeking treatment through a CBT plan, which can include counseling sessions, as well as interactive exercises and lessons. Online therapy is widely considered a more accessible mental health service than traditional face-to-face counseling due to lower costs, flexible scheduling, and fewer geographic restrictions.

As discussed above, if you have a mental or emotional condition that is interfering with your quality of life, online therapy is a useful option. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you don&rsquot have to wait for an appointment, which can take weeks or even months. And as opposed to in-person therapy, online therapy through BetterHelp can be done completely anonymously. Before you begin, we recommend that you read a couple of reviews to see how others have used BetterHelp's online services to improve their learning and overall happiness.


Chunking up

When chunking up a specific concept, object, thing etc is moved towards being more general. This can allow for a broader view, or put things into a new context. Also, small, simple parts can be synthesised and moved up into a larger concept

  • From a part to a whole – Spoke = Wheel = Frame = Bicycle
  • From an example of a larger category to that very larger category itself – Daisy = flower = Plant = Flora = Living Organism

In simple terms chunking up creates more choices and options and encourages expansive lateral mental thought….seeing the bigger picture! Milton model processes work beautifully in relation to this.

Chunking down

When chunking down a general concept or general relation to an object or thing etc is moved towards being more specific thus the surface structure is penetrated and the deeper structure examined. Small parts can be sub-divided and clarified.

  • From a whole to a part – Bicycle = Frame = Wheel = Spoke = Aluminium
  • From a larger category to an example of that larger category – Aircraft = Rotorcraft = Helicopter = Focke-Wolf = FW 61

This can be classified as analytical, and helps with understanding the relation of parts to the whole. The Meta model is the perfect process for this.

Chunking across

Additionally, chunks can be used to traverse one member of a class to another related member on the same level of that class or part of a whole to another component part of the same whole.

  • Member of a class to another member – Bus = Taxi = Train = Tram = Ferry (all modes of public transport).
  • Part of a whole to another part – Button = Pocket = Belt = Seam= Zip (all parts of a pair of trousers).

Chunking across is akin to promoting free association that is to say that connections can be made between objects that initially appear to have no relation to each other.

Chunking Phrases

When considering the type of phrases that can be used when chunking, it becomes apparent that the list would never be exhaustive. Here are just some of the phrases that can be used for the purposes of Chunking up

  • “You say you are depressed, how then are the ways, do you realise, that other depressed peoplecan begin to feel happy again?”
  • “If you don’t like your job, tell me what can people, like you, can do about it?”
  • “See the sea…and see the sea sailors in their boats as you look, and see, what does a sailor get from sailing on the sea…what other examples can you think of that water be usefully used for…wellness?”
  • “How can a Transistor Radio affect the feelings and well being of a listener as they both listen, or not, but are…?”
  • “What is the purpose of young children who take pleasure from exploring simple things…and how it can help you in your situation?”
  • “I often wonder if lions lie as they are lying with lions in the sun…if they did would lying lions lie like people sometimes do? What kind of intention do lies have…?”
  • If a person does the wrong things for the right reasons, are their intentions then noble…?”
  • “Some people seem to change when they get behind the wheel of a car, what are your thoughts on the modern day driver of today?”
  • “It’s not what you know that you don’t know that causes you problems it’s what you don’t know that you know…now, how does knowing that that apply to you right now?”
  • “As I say the word school do you have childhoodmemories? What is the purpose of that memory now? What can you take from that memory?”

And here is a list of phrases that can be used for the purposes of Chunking Down

  • “Okay then, can you tell me exactly what it is that makes you feel that you are depressed?”
  • “What precisely prevents you from applying for other jobs and changing your profession?”
  • “Yes, water does indeed have many uses, but I actually want you to tell me which day of the week it is that you swim at your local swimming club to keep fit…and how many lengths you actually swim!”
  • Transistor radios are useful in the home….but do you have one in your office? Where is it situated and what channel do you listen to?”
  • “How many children do you have, how old are they and what are their names?”
  • “Please give me an example of when you have lied to him. What exactly prevented you from telling your husband the truth at that time?”
  • “Who exactly decides what is right and wrong? Can you give me an example of what doing the right thing for the wrong reason is? Thanks, now please tell me exactly how you have decided that it is a noble action”
  • “What kind of car do you drive? Have you been involved in a driving incident lately? If so where did it happen?”
  • What prevents you from tapping into your inner resources to solve the problem of how to change that plug fuse? You have after all done it before several times!”
  • “Can you tell me the name of the primary school that you attended and the name of your best friend in primary five?”

The contrast between the chunking up and chunking down phrases above offers a concise, simplistic illustration of the practical application of this set of skills. Now that I have learnt about chunking I am becoming ever more surprised by the amount of possibility it offers me in my every day interactions. The Hierarchy of Ideas undoubtedly facilitates the art of excellent communication, intervention and the removal of blockages.

Chunking is indeed everywhere….. (Where exactly?).

Learn more about the amazingly influential use of language patterns in our NLP Training Courses