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Metatheory of storage capacity limits

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2001

Nelson Cowan
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211 cowann@missouri.edu www.missouri.edu/~psycowan

Abstract

Commentators expressed a wide variety of views on whether there is a basic capacity limit of 3 to 5 chunks and, among those who believe in it, about why it occurs. In this response, I conclude that the capacity limit is real and that the concept is strengthened by additional evidence offered by a number of commentators. I consider various arguments why the limit occurs and try to organize these arguments into a conceptual framework or “metatheory” of storage capacity limits meant to be useful in future research to settle the issue. I suggest that principles of memory representation determine what parts of the representation will be most prominent but that limits of attention (or of a memory store that includes only items that have been most recently attended) determine the 3- to 5-chunk capacity limit.

Type
Author's Response
Copyright
© 2001 Cambridge University Press

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