Saturday, February 26, 2011

7 Plus or Minus 2

George Armitage Miller (1920- ) is the author of one of the most highly cited papers in psychology, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two" published in 1956 in Psychological Review. This paper suggests that seven (plus or minus two) is the magic number that characterizes people's memory performance on random lists of letters, words, numbers, or almost any kind of meaningful familiar item.

Miller is generally considered one of the fathers of modern cognitive psychology.

He received his PhD in 1946 from Harvard University, based on military research he did during the war on the topic of speech perception.

In 1960, Miller founded the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard with Jerome Bruner[1], a cognitive developmentalist.

He is known in the linguistics community, for overseeing the development of WordNet, a semantic network for the English language. He is also known for coining Miller's Law: In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of. Miller examined how knowledge is accumulated and organized into a practical "image" or plan.

In 1951 he published “Language and Communication” a text that helped to establish psycholinguistics as an independent field of research in psychology. He subsequently tried to extend Shannon’s measure of information to explain short-term memory, work that resulted in a widely quoted (and often misquoted) paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.

Miller’s attempts to estimate the amount of information per word in conversational speech led him to Noam Chomsky[2], who showed him how the sequential predictability of speech follows from adherence to grammatical, not probabilistic, rules.



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