Learning New Information is Easier When it is Composed of Familiar Elements


Carnegie Mellon psychologists uncover critical relationship between working memory and strength of information ‘chunks’.

People have more difficulty recalling the string of letters BIC, IAJ, FKI, RSU and SAF than FBI, CIA, JFK, IRS and USA. The well-established reason is that the amount of information we can hold in our short-term or working memory is affected by whether the information can be “chunked” into larger units.

New research by Carnegie Mellon University psychologists takes this learning principle one step further by uncovering how the strength – or familiarity – of those chunks plays a crucial role. Published in Psychonomic Bulletin Review, they show for the first time that it is easier to learn new facts that are composed of more familiar chunks.