2+2≠4

From a recent report comes some interesting news about our brain’s ability to recall information in so-called short-term memory. MIT neuroscientists have concluded that:

  • the brain can recall at best, 4 items of information in short-term memory;
  • we can recall these best when 2 are on the left, and 2 are on the right

“The fact that we have different capacities in each hemisphere implies that we should present information in a way that does not overtax one hemisphere while undertaxing the other,” says Tim Buschman, a postdoc working with Miller and a co-author of thePNAS paper. “For example, heads-up displays [transparent projections of information that a driver or pilot would normally need to look down at the dashboard to see] show a lot of data. Our results suggest that you want to put that information evenly on both sides of the visual field to maximize the amount of information that gets into the brain.”

It might be too early to make assumptions about what we should change in the classroom, but the basic gist here is interesting — with a call to present information symetrically when it needs to be held in working memory. This might apply to the design of visual instructional aids (presentation slides, Promethean flip charts), computer software, or even the more pedestrian worksheet or textbook diagram.