Following completion of this lesson, you will be able to define the term chunking in the context of short-term memory. After reading this lesson, you will have an opportunity to test your knowledge with a short quiz.
What is Chunking?
Look at this sequence of numbers: 2, 4, 7, 8, 6, 5, 9, 0, 8, 7.Now close your eyes and repeat them out loud. How many did you remember? Did you get them all right? If you are like most people, you probably were not able to remember those 10 random numbers after only looking at them for a second or two. Remembering 10 digits is not impossible, however.
Actually, most of us do it all the time.So, how can our brain make the transition from a string of 10 random digits to something that we can repeat back with ease? Sometimes, without even realizing it, we use a short-term memory strategy called chunking.Chunking is one way to make remembering relatively lengthy strings of information a little bit easier. It is particularly useful when we only need to remember something for a short period of time. As its name implies, chunking involves taking long strings of information, like numbers or letters, and grouping (or chunking) them into smaller, more manageable bits of information. So, if you broke that 10 digit string down into smaller chunks, you would only have to remember 2 groups of 3 digits and one group of 4 digits.
This method is much easier than remembering a long string of 10 digits.
Everyday Examples of Chunking
Let’s look at a couple of examples that demonstrate how chunking can be used in everyday scenarios to improve our short-term memory.Let’s say that your parents just got a new home alarm system. They are out of town and you’re house-sitting for the weekend. Your dad forgot to give you the code to disarm the alarm system before they left. You are driving on your way to their house when your dad calls you to give you the code.
You are almost to the house, you have nothing to write on, and – wouldn’t you know it – right after he finishes giving you the code (6527852389), your phone dies.How are you going to remember the code? Well, if you are fortunate to have already read this lesson, you will know how to use the chunking method. So, as your dad was reciting the code, you were mentally grouping the long strings of digits into smaller, easier to remember chunks of information.
652, 785, 2389 is much easier to remember. Within a few seconds, you’re in the house without any problems. Good thing you knew about chunking, huh?
As we have seen, chunking is helpful when it comes to remembering long strings of numbers, but it can also be a useful strategy when it comes to letters. For example, most people really appreciate it when someone whom they have met maybe only one time remembers their name.
Great politicians and successful businessmen and businesswomen figure this out quickly. So, how do they do it? It’s possible that they use chunking.Imagine that you are preparing to interview for your dream job. The only catch? All eight of the companies’ top executives will be in the room for the interview. You don’t yet know all of their names, so you can’t commit them to long-term memory in advance.
As the interview begins, the panel of executives goes around the room introducing themselves. Their names – John, Susan, Javier, Tonya, Jeanne, Kris, Tim, and Ashanti – all enter your short-term memory.As you listen, you are actively attempting to make sure that those names stay in your short-term memory long enough so that you can recall them following the interview. Fortunately, they all stay in the same seat throughout the interview, so if you remember the names in order then you should have no trouble placing the name with the correct person. You convert that string of eight names into four smaller chunks of two names: John and Susan, Javier and Tonya, Jeanne and Kris, and then Tim and Ashanti.
Now, chunking will not guarantee 100% accuracy, but by creating smaller strings of information, or chunks, you have significantly improved your odds of getting those names correct and leaving the interview panel with a pretty positive impression.
Chunking is one strategy that can be used to improve a person’s short-term memory. It involves reducing long strings of information that can be difficult to remember down into shorter, more manageable chunks. Instead of remembering a string of 10 digits, you might only need to remember two strings of three digits and one string of four digits. Chunking can have many practical applications across a wide range of settings. Give it a try the next time you have an opportunity.
Once you are done with this lesson, you should be able to explain how to use the chunking method to remember strings of information.