You know the rule of thumb that says humans can only hold 7 (+ or – 2) items in short-term memory at a given time? Well, while reading Information Architecture for the World Wide Web I came across a reference to the original research on the subject.

In his opening comments, Prof. George A. Miller says:

“My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer. For seven years this number has followed me around, has intruded in my most private data, and has assaulted me from the pages of our most public journals. This number assumes a variety of disguises, being sometimes a little larger and sometimes a little smaller than usual, but never changing so much as to be unrecognizable.”

The paper explains what the number 7 really means in terms of human perception and cognition. It’s a fascinating article, and a must-read if you enjoy knowing the true origins of such pieces of modern folk wisdom.

Further reading: