What Is Chunking?


Quick Answer

Chunking is a psychological phenomenon that involves taking individual bits of information and grouping them into larger units. It has implications for short-term memory acquisition and explains the way that people remember and group individual stimuli in a memory test. The first theoretical examination of chunking was written by George A. Miller in his essay, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information."

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Miller's paper analyzes the ways that human beings process strings of numbers and letters that they are asked to memorize. He found that a person's capacity to remember chunks or groups of information was generally greater than his ability to remember individual bits of information. Miller went on to say that it should be possible to increase short-term memory accuracy by grouping data points into larger and larger chunks, so long as the number of chunks remains between five and nine.

Chunking has been applied to several different fields of learning and memory, particularly advanced motor learning, foreign language acquisition and long-term memory structure construction. Since its proposal in 1956, it has become a generally accepted tenet of modern psychology. George A. Miller's paper is considered a classic in the fields of psychology, memory analysis and neuroscience.

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