Information Processing Theory

George A. Miller has provided two theoretical ideas that are fundamental to cognitive psychology and the information processing framework.

The first concept is “chunking” and the capacity of short term memory. Miller (1956) presented the idea that short-term memory could only hold 5-9 chunks of information (seven plus or minus two) where a chunk is any meaningful unit. A chunk could refer to digits, words, chess positions, or people’s faces. The concept of chunking and the limited capacity of short term memory became a basic element of all subsequent theories of memory.

The second concept is TOTE (Test-Operate-Test-Exit) proposed by Miller, Galanter & Pribram (1960). Miller et al. suggested that TOTE should replace the stimulus-response as the basic unit of behavior. In a TOTE unit, a goal is tested to see if it has been achieved and if not an operation is performed to achieve the goal; this cycle of test-operate is repeated until the goal is eventually achieved or abandoned. The TOTE concept provided the basis of many subsequent theories of problem solving (e.g., GPS) and production systems.

topic 6

Basic Assumptions

The information processing approach is based on a number of assumptions, including:

(i) Information made available by the environment is processed by a series of processing systems (e.g. attention, perception, short-term memory);

(ii) These processing systems transform or alter the information in systematic ways;

(iii) The aim of research is to specify the processes and structures that underlie cognitive performance;

(iv) Information processing in humans resembles that in computers.

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