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Digit Span Experiment

Updated on September 23, 2014

Memory Helpers and More: Circulatory, Neuronal, Managerial and Social Systems Support

Focus* – pay enough attention time (e.g. take 5 seconds to see where car is parked)

Checklist – cover your event needs by having an inventory of everything (item/do list)

Prioritize – select most valued tasks to spend your time on (one at a time)

Rehearse – mentally/physically prepare for events (see in mind’s eye, try out)

Routinize – have regular plans, places, acts, and times for daily activities

Cue – use signs, links, calendars and messages (write notes to yourself)

Sleep – have 8-9 hours in dark, cool, soothing environment (+shades/air/sounds, - caffeine)

Limit Stress – check tension and control with a “breather” (relaxing time-out)

Stimulate – use invigorating exercises, activities, foods, drinks, and people

Reinforce – strengthen your desirable habits with rewards, but not the undesirable

* Attention, Better Attention, and Best Attention: A Guide for Enjoyably Increasing Effectiveness by EL Lotecka Well-proven methods assist in uniquely clarifying attention, actively engaging intention, and strongly supporting success. Through focused thinking, feeling, sensing, and imaging practice, out-dated habits can be changed into new action patterns for reaching goals.

References

Myers, D. G. (2012). Psychology in everyday life (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Worth

As cell phones have become easier to afford, they have become very popular. You can hardly walk across campus, eat in a restaurant, or ride on a bus, without seeing someone using their cell phone. With the explosion of cell phones on the market, phone companies have been pressed to support the ever-increasing use of all of the possible phone numbers available in any one state. As a result, many states have gone from a 7-digit dialing procedure to a 10-digit dialing procedure so they can add additional area codes to highly populated areas. While some people have adjusted to these changes with little effort, others have struggled. They find trying to remember 10 digits more difficult than remembering 7 digits.

Research psychologists are not surprised about these results. According to one view of memory, the information-processing model of memory (Atkinson-Shiffrin Model), our memory is composed of three parts (as shown in the image on the left). The first part, sensory memory, holds all the information that comes in through our senses. However, the memory trace is very short, ranging from less than a second to about three seconds. If these memory traces don't draw your attention to them, they fade and are lost from your memory.

However, if the memory traces capture your attention, they are generally moved into the next phase of memory, working memory. Working memory is also brief and it has a very limited capacity. In fact, Miller (1956) found that working memory is limited to 7 plus or minus two pieces of information. While this idea is under scrutiny today by new information we are discovering through research, some cognitive psychologists still acknowledge this finding as critical in understanding the limitations of working memory.

Surely you can identify with trying to remember a list of numbers as you type them into a web site or punch them into your phone. For example, when ordering something online, do you look at your 16 digit credit card number once and then type in all the numbers, or do you type in 4 to 8 numbers and then glance back down at the card? Unless you've already memorized your credit card number, chances are that you have to glance at it more than once when typing it into a web site. This size limitation of working memory should also help you understand why some people are having more difficulty working with 10-digit dialing as opposed to 7-digit dialing as we discussed earlier.

Lastly, the final state in memory is long-term memory. For information to move from working memory to long-term memory, there must be some type of effortful processing of the information. Effortful processing might include redefining the information, determining how things are related, or even just practicing the information repeatedly. For example, type in your credit card enough times and eventually you will have it memorized because of your effort at practicing it. However, as evident from the diagram pictured here, forgetting can occur at any of these stages.

As previously mentioned, your working memory has a limited capacity. Let's take a moment and determine if your working memory follows the 7 plus or minus 2 rule. Then, we'll see if we can come up with some strategies to increase your working memory storage capacity.

Digit span refers to the number of items (usually letters or digits) that a person can hold in working memory. In this experiment, you will have an opportunity to determine the approximate digit span of your working memory.

When you press the "START EXPERIMENT" button, a sequence of digits will be shown, one digit at a time. Each digit will be visible for a short period of time. After the whole sequence has been shown, you will be asked to type in the digits you saw. You must type in the digits in the same order as they were shown on the screen. Do not include spaces between the digits. After you have typed in the digits, press the "OK" button to indicate that you are done typing.


The computer will tell you if you were able to recall the sequence correctly. You will have three trials of 3 digits, 4 digits, 5 digits, and so on. The program will stop when you fail all three trials for any particular length of digits.

In Part 1 of this experiment, you will be presented lists of 3 digits, then 4 digits, then 5 digits, and so on. As explained previously, after a sequence of digits has been shown, you will be asked to type in the digits you saw. The computer will then analyze your responses and either allow you to continue to longer lists of digits or it will stop you once you fail a few times. Please be patient and diligent, as your responses will be recorded.

Good job! We'll go over your results in just a minute. Don't be frustrated if your working memory capacity is shorter than you had hoped.

In the second part of this experiment, we are going to show you one method of expanding the capacity of your working memory digit span.

In Part 2 of the experiment, you will be shown 3 digit numbers in succession. As in Part 1, after you click the start button, you will see the digits displayed for a short period of time. Then, you will be asked to type in the numbers you saw. The computer will analyze your responses and provide you with feedback.


Type the digits in the same order that you see them, with no spaces between the digits.

You might wonder whether the nature of the material you are trying to remember can influence your digit span. To examine this, we will go through the experiment again, only this time you will be presented with a binary string of digits (e.g., 0 1 0 0 1 0) instead of using all possible numbers. Then we will test your memory one last time using letters instead of numbers. For these last two experiments, we will also go back to presenting the digits one at a time.


The independent variable in the first part of this experiment was the method of presentation (single digit or grouped). The independent variable in the second part is type of stimuli (binary or letters). The dependent variable is the number of digits that you can remember in correct order.


In Part 3 of the experiment, you will be shown sets of five single digits. As in Part 2, here you will click the start button and the groups of numbers will be shown for a short period of time. After the intended sequence has been shown, you will again be asked to type in the numbers you saw, the computer will then analyze your responses.

My Results

Congratulations on completing this task. Here are your results:


Part 1: Numbers presented singly
You correctly recalled digit sequences 6-numbers long.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Part 2: Numbers presented in groups of three
You correctly recalled digit sequences 9-numbers long.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Part 3: Binary numbers presented singly
You correctly recalled digit sequences 7-numbers long.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Part 4: Letters presented singly
You correctly recalled strings 5-letters long.
------------------------------------------------------

How do your experiment results relate to what you have learned in this module? What insights did you gain about cognitive processes and associated research methods by participating in this experiment?

After taking the Digit Span test in My Psych Lab I was surprised by my result. I was able to recall numbers presented singly that were up to 6-numbers long, numbers presented in groups of three that were up to 9-numbers long, binary numbers presented singly that were up to 7-numbers long, and letters presented singly that were 5-letters long. When I compared my results to the global results I found that all of my scores except for numbers presented in groups of three were below the average scores. I was surprised by this because I thought that I had a better memory because I always seem to do well on memorization tests. I now know that my cognitive processes are more geared towards remembering facts than random letters and numbers. This means that while I would do well on a history test I would not be as good as some people at remembering a license plate or a telephone number. I wonder if the amount of time I saw each number or letter affected how well I was able to recall the number and letters. For instance if each number/letter stayed on the screen five seconds longer would my recall rate increase or decrease?

Did you find your memory span increased or decreased depending upon the stimulus type? If you are like most people, you won't see much of a difference between your memory for random numbers, binary digits, or letter strings. This is because the working memory store seems to be able to store 7 2 chunks of information, no matter what those chunks are (see Hayes 1952). Thus, you store the letter "v" just like you store the number "2" or the number "1942". That is why it is useful to chunk information together when possible.

If we revisit the issue of moving from a 7 digit to a 10 digit phone dialing procedure, based on your results, how do you think you would do with this transition?


Most people do just fine with this transition. One reason is that when someone has lived in an area for a while they become familiar with the area code and prefixes of numbers in their town. In those cases, frequently they "chunk" the numbers into three segments with the area code, prefix, and the last four digits. By using chunking in situations like memory for phone numbers, new learning, and even note taking, we can expand the information we hold in working memory. In fact, when studying for exams, chunking information can save you time and allow for more efficient processing and memory formation.

If we revisit the issue of moving from a 7 digit to a 10 digit phone dialing procedure, based on your results, how do you think you would do with this transition?


Keep in mind, that measures of digit span are in no way attached to intelligence. However, if you find it useful, you can increase your digit span with some effortful exercises. As reported by Ericsson and Chase (1982) two average students were able to increase their digit span from 4-5 digits to over 80 items! It required training one hour a day, 4-5 times per week, for several months, but clearly their digit span increased. Both students made use of chunking to assist them in increasing their ability to recall the numbers presented to them.


Other research shows additional benefits of increasing working memory span. In recent research, Avons, Wragg, and Cupples (1998) demonstrated that children with longer working memory spans demonstrated a more rapid development of their vocabulary. They clearly learned more words, more quickly, and were able to use them more appropriately compared to peers who had smaller working memory spans.


However, you need to make sure you can take advantage of these benefits while you are still young. Research has also shown that digit and word span naturally decreases with age (see Kausler, et al., 1979; Hester, et al., 2004 for discussion). However, with work, you can build and maintain a large span well into late adulthood.

User ID
Date Completed
Time Completed
What is your gender?
How old are you?
Are you left handed or right handed?
Longest String Recalled [Numbers Single]
Longest String Recalled [Numbers Grouped]
Longest String Recalled [Binary Single]
Longest String Recalled [Letters grouped]
10
2/17/2012
11:58:31
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
7
19
5/8/2012
14:06:03
Female
36-45
Right Handed
7
9
7
5
29
2/21/2012
18:43:11
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
7
7
32
2/5/2012
17:56:02
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
6
6
37
3/2/2012
22:38:51
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
15
9
9
49
2/4/2012
3:25:14
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
7
7
7
61
3/12/2012
22:37:03
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
7
7
69
2/25/2012
18:36:20
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
10
8
7
73
1/31/2012
18:23:23
Female
25-Nov
Left Handed
9
9
9
7
77
3/9/2012
13:52:49
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
9
8
7
82
2/9/2012
23:00:18
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
8
8
6
91
9/11/2013
19:39:27
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
12
8
8
101
5/8/2012
13:45:53
Male
26-35
Left Handed
6
9
0
1
103
2/11/2012
20:16:04
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
5
7
7
5
104
2/29/2012
3:24:15
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
2
0
0
0
106
3/3/2012
19:25:32
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
6
9
9
112
2/3/2012
2:28:12
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
6
7
7
122
2/8/2012
15:33:22
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
9
8
7
123
2/21/2012
0:11:57
Male
25-Nov
Left Handed
7
9
9
6
137
2/2/2012
12:03:47
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
7
142
3/3/2012
17:26:08
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
7
7
6
144
2/16/2012
21:19:20
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
9
5
146
2/16/2012
0:56:37
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
9
9
8
163
2/14/2012
10:07:46
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
1
5
6
6
169
2/4/2012
19:06:50
Female
25-Nov
Left Handed
7
9
9
6
177
2/7/2012
18:57:28
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
8
7
7
178
2/22/2012
14:24:32
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
8
183
3/1/2012
3:09:28
Female
25-Nov
Left Handed
7
9
7
5
185
3/7/2012
18:49:19
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
6
6
186
2/21/2012
19:37:07
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
12
8
8
187
2/13/2012
20:06:42
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
6
9
7
189
2/23/2012
4:05:55
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
8
9
7
192
2/15/2012
19:27:15
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
9
8
9
195
1/30/2012
22:02:26
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
12
9
6
198
2/15/2012
22:16:21
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
12
9
7
201
2/4/2012
19:39:18
Male
26-35
Right Handed
9
12
9
7
214
2/6/2012
0:55:42
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
6
8
7
223
2/27/2012
18:09:18
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
3
6
6
241
2/24/2012
10:37:32
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
11
9
7
245
2/21/2012
16:14:36
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
6
7
6
258
2/14/2012
16:07:14
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
7
9
260
2/13/2012
22:41:34
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
9
8
8
262
2/21/2012
19:15:10
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
8
6
277
2/1/2012
7:33:32
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
9
9
9
288
2/13/2012
22:13:23
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
3
8
7
290
2/12/2012
19:15:17
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
9
6
293
2/13/2012
17:24:51
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
9
8
7
295
2/13/2012
15:57:44
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
5
8
7
304
2/29/2012
13:29:33
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
9
9
6
307
2/17/2013
0:50:53
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
10
9
8
314
3/1/2012
1:10:35
Male
25-Nov
Left Handed
7
9
9
7
319
2/21/2012
19:02:11
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
8
7
6
322
2/27/2012
12:01:36
Female
25-Nov
Left Handed
7
9
7
6
346
2/7/2012
15:37:02
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
5
9
8
4
362
2/24/2012
18:51:26
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
9
1
7
380
3/11/2012
17:06:06
Prefer Not To Say
25-Nov
Left Handed
9
12
9
9
382
2/13/2012
18:18:25
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
6
385
2/5/2012
17:47:50
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
5
6
6
5
405
2/11/2012
15:49:37
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
8
407
2/9/2012
15:24:15
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
6
7
7
409
2/6/2012
16:18:04
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
7
7
6
415
2/20/2012
22:19:36
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
8
7
5
416
1/30/2012
0:57:34
Female
26-35
Right Handed
7
9
6
7
417
2/8/2012
14:27:23
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
8
7
6
427
2/2/2012
19:26:33
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
15
9
9
428
2/22/2012
23:31:48
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
7
8
450
2/16/2012
0:26:48
Female
25-Nov
Left Handed
7
9
9
7
455
2/6/2012
19:28:10
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
8
458
1/21/2012
17:16:40
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
8
7
484
2/10/2012
18:53:45
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
7
8
5
547
2/19/2012
3:16:11
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
7
7
549
2/1/2012
14:32:43
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
12
9
6
610
2/18/2012
17:46:58
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
4
6
7
629
2/6/2012
15:00:27
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
7
9
6
633
3/5/2012
22:48:38
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
7
5
634
2/6/2012
23:52:25
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
9
6
637
2/20/2012
15:36:03
Male
25-Nov
Left Handed
8
9
7
7
694
2/11/2012
19:24:33
Female
36-45
Right Handed
6
9
9
8
718
2/7/2012
14:02:30
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
12
9
9
727
3/1/2012
0:09:32
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
12
9
9
732
3/9/2012
12:54:09
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
9
6
739
2/9/2012
20:47:04
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
11
9
5
741
2/13/2012
17:35:35
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
3
7
4
757
2/29/2012
23:48:18
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
6
8
6
758
2/16/2012
11:37:10
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
9
761
2/9/2012
2:37:48
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
12
8
7
770
2/14/2012
11:04:04
Male
26-35
Right Handed
9
12
9
9
789
3/1/2012
18:27:06
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
6
9
6
6
813
1/31/2012
20:29:24
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
8
7
817
2/3/2012
11:53:19
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
12
7
8
874
4/25/2012
1:18:21
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
9
12
9
9
878
2/28/2012
12:05:14
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
6
884
2/27/2012
13:14:22
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
9
9
6
897
2/27/2012
21:31:42
Female
25-Nov
Left Handed
7
12
8
7
899
2/1/2012
19:14:58
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
6
9
9
917
2/22/2012
15:48:54
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
9
7
5
929
2/12/2012
20:56:53
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
8
8
9
7
943
2/9/2012
19:02:36
Male
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
14
8
9
963
2/28/2012
2:27:15
Female
25-Nov
Right Handed
7
9
9
7

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References

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K. W. Spence and J. T. Spence (Eds.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances in Research and Theory (Vol. 2, pp. 89-195). New York: Academic Press.

Avons, S. E.; Wragg, Christopher A.; Cupples, L. (1998). Measures of phonological working memory and their relationship to vocabulary development. Applied Psycholinguistics, Vol 19(4), pp. 583-601.

Ericsson, K. Anders; Chase, William G. (1982). Exceptional memory. American Scientist, Vol 70(6), pp. 607-615.

Hayes, J.R.M. Memory span for several vocabularies as a function of vocabulary size. In Quarterly Progress Report, Cambridge, Mass.: Acoustics Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jan.-June, 1952.

Hester, Robert L.; Kinsella, Glynda J.; Ong, Ben (2004). Effect of age on forward and backward span tasks. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, Vol 10(4), pp. 475-481.

Kausler, Donald H.; Puckett, James M. (1979). Effects of word frequency on adult age differences in word memory span. Experimental Aging Research, Vol 5(2), pp. 161-169.

Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

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    • profile image

      Chaas 2 years ago

      It's a pleasure to find such raattnilioy in an answer. Welcome to the debate.

    • misty103 profile image
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      misty103 2 years ago

      Thanks

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      Gracye 2 years ago

      Many many quitaly points there.

    • misty103 profile image
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      misty103 2 years ago

      Thank you for the comment :)

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      Charla 2 years ago

      Arceltis like this make life so much simpler.