Your first thought, when you hear the word “chunking” is of somebody building up his or her body by eating. Instead of building up our body, in this context we are going to use the term as a form of building up our mind and memory system.

The term ‘chunking’ originally came out of a paper written by George A. Miller entitled, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information.” Miller observed that the brain seemed to be able to process information easier if the information was divided up into smaller groups. There have been numerous studies conducted since then to support this theory, and it can be summed up simply by stating, “short-term memory has a capacity of about ‘seven plus-or-minus two’ chunks.” Miller believed the brain is usually able to process only about nine items at a time, and with monosyllabic English words it can drop down to five. He did acknowledge, “We are not very definite about what constitutes a chunk of information.”

From Miller’s theory it should be possible to increase our short-term memory of low-information content by mentally breaking the information down into smaller bits, or chunks. We should then be able to take these smaller chunks and add them to other small chunks to form high-information content (the whole context). For example: If you were trying to remember a speech you would break down the speech into smaller areas (perhaps paragraphs) and by learning each section individually first you can then combine them to have memorized the entire speech.

Chunking as a memory technique can be looked at by the way we group numbers in our daily life. For example: If you want to remember a phone number you would break the number down into smaller groups of 3-3-4 digits. Area code (3 digits), Location (3 digits), and the number (4 digits). 555-555-5555. So, instead of remembering 10 digits at once we break it down into three groups. Three smaller groups are easier to remember than one long series.

Other types of memory techniques, including mnemonics, have used chunking in various different ways. Prior to Miller’s paper, the idea of chunking existed in terms of memory, but it just didn’t have a name. Now the term ‘chunking’ is common in reference to this type of memory system.

My name is Ron White, and I am a memory training expert, memory speaker and two-time USA Memory Champion. I hope to continue to bring you interesting ways, such as chunking, to improve your memory.



Wikipedia – Chunking: