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Did you know that the average memory span is only 7 items long? In this lesson we will define memory span, discuss memory span as a measurement of short term memory, and more.

What Is Memory Span?

John and Kim have completed an application for their youngest son, Remy, to attend a private high school. As part of the admission criteria, Remy must take several intelligence and aptitude tests. In the first test of the day, the test administrator reads the following numbers ‘2, 1, 4, 3, 9, 7, 4, 2, 0, 5, 6, 8, 3’. The test administrator then asks Remy to repeat the numbers in order. Remy correct repeats all 13 numbers. Remy was asked to answer a few additional questions that were similar to the first.

Upon completion, Remy was informed that the test administrators were measuring his memory span and that his results showed that he can hold a lot of information in his short term memory and is expected to do well in school.Memory span refers to the amount of items, e.g.

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numbers, letters, or words, that a person has the ability to remember. Short term memory refers to where we keep information that we can readily tap into and utilize. We have the ability to keep information in short term memory for an estimated 18 to 20 seconds. The amount of information that we can hold in short term memory is limited.

As such, we can measure the size of short term memory by using memory span.

Measuring Memory Span

The structure of most memory span tests is somewhat similar. Typically, the test administrator will read several numbers out loud. The numbers are random, and each number takes about a second to read.

Once the numbers have all been read, the test administrator will ask the person being tested to repeat the numbers in the same exact order that they were read. The amount of items that a person can correctly recall in order is the person’s memory span for the particular task. For example, Remy’s memory span is 13, given that he was able to correctly identify all 13 numbers.

Given that the average memory span is seven items, Remy’s scores indicate that his memory span is better than most. Memory span tests do not always ask you to recall numbers. For example, you could be given a list of words or letters of the alphabet to recall instead.The larger your memory span, the more information you can hold in short term memory. Likewise, having a larger memory span means that you are able to hold different types of stimuli in mind.

This can be very beneficial, especially when it comes to completing cognitive tasks. For example, people with higher memory spans tend to perform better on achievement tests such as the Stanford 10. There is also a positive relationship between intelligence and memory span.

Additional Example

Let’s look at another example of a memory span test. Suppose Remy had to complete another memory span task. This time, the test administrator reads the following words, ‘banana, pair, rice, chair, balloon, hustle, camp.’ Remy is then asked to repeat the information in order. In this example, Remy’s memory span is being measured using words instead of numbers.

Lesson Summary

Our memory span refers to the amount of information that we can recall.

Memory span has been linked to intelligence, performance on achievement tests, and information storage. Memory span is one way to measure our short term memory. During memory span testing, the test taker is read a list of number, letters, or words and then asked to repeat as many as they can remember.

The average memory span is seven items.

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