SocraticGadfly: Your memory is better than you think

August 19, 2008

Your memory is better than you think

Or rather, your and my short-term memory is better than we’ve previously been told.

Our ability to remember shocking images in memory has lead researchers to revise ideas about just how much we can hold in short-term memory. That’s somewhat true, still, but not in the way believed before.

Neuroscientists used to think there was a numeric limit, such as being able to hold no more than three or four items in short-term memory at a time, at least without “clumping.”

Now, it appears we should more closely use a computer analogy and say that our short-term memory limits are based on bytes of space, not number of items.
“Before people have had this idea that visual memory has a very simple limit: three or four items and that’s it,” said researcher Paul Bays, a neuroscientist at University College London. “What my research shows is that there isn’t that upper limit, but instead there’s a single resource that’s shared out between items. What happens is that the items that stand out get more of this resource, and so are remembered with greater precision.”

Obviously, further research needs to be done about things such as, what happens when two “standout” items that stand out for totally different reasons, are presented to awareness at about the same time.

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