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Memory. 2004 Nov;12(6):732-47.

Chunks in expert memory: evidence for the magical number four ... or is it two?

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University of Nottingham, UK.


This study aims to test the divergent predictions of the chunking theory (Chase & Simon, 1973) and template theory (Gobet & Simon, 1996a, 2000) with respect to the number of chunks held in visual short-term memory and the size of chunks used by experts. We presented game and random chessboards in both a copy and a recall task. In a within-subject design, the stimuli were displayed using two presentation media: (a) physical board and pieces, as in Chase and Simon's (1973) study; and (b) a computer display, as in Gobet and Simon's (1998) study. Results show that, in most cases, no more than three chunks were replaced in the recall task, as predicted by template theory. In addition, with game positions in the computer condition, chess Masters replaced very large chunks (up to 15 pieces), again in line with template theory. Overall, the results suggest that the original chunking theory overestimated short-term memory capacity and underestimated the size of chunks used, in particular with Masters. They also suggest that Cowan's (2001) proposal that STM holds four chunks may be an overestimate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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