George Miller’s magical number of immediate memory in retrospect: Observations on the faltering progression of science

Nelson Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Miller’s (1956) article about storage capacity limits, “The magical number seven plus or minus two…,” is one of the best-known articles in psychology. Though influential in several ways, for about 40 years it was oddly followed by rather little research on the numerical limit of capacity in working memory, or on the relation between three potentially related phenomena that Miller described. Given that the article was written in a humorous tone and was framed around a tongue-in-cheek premise (persecution by an integer), I argue that it may have inadvertently stymied progress on these topics as researchers attempted to avoid ridicule. This commentary relates some correspondence with Miller on his article and concludes with a call to avoid self-censorship of our less conventional ideas.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Review
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2015

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