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Surprising Science

Expanding the Short Term Memory

On average, a brain’s short term memory can only hold between five and seven pieces of information at a time. Can steps be taken to expand the capacity of our memory—and our brains generally?

What’s the Big Idea?

Where are the keys? Did I feed the cat? Did I return that call? What time is the dinner? And where? That is the extent of most people’s short term memory—five to seven pieces of information. These limits on memory also place larger limits on the number and kinds of tasks our brains can perform. From reading comprehension to logic, a better memory could help us accomplish more, but is there a way—beyond memorizing pi to an absurd number of digits—to really improve the capacity of our short term memory?

What’s the Most Recent Development?

More demanding memory tasks than memorizing long strings of numbers may be required to improve our capacity to remember. Researchers at Temple University have developed a computer test that asks subjects to respond to a series of questions while simultaneously remembering the last word of each question. The difficulty of this task is thought to make a deep impression on how the mind remembers and therefore enable better performance in areas that require a better memory. How memory relates to intelligence, however, is still contested. 


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