Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Memory Span

Memory span refers to the number of items (usually words or digits) that a person can hold in working memory. Tests of memory span are often used to measure working memory capacity (Baddeley, 1990). A typical test of memory span involves having an examiner read a list of random digits (digit span) or words (word span) aloud at the rate of one per second. At the end of a sequence, subjects are asked to recall the items in order. The average span for normal adults is 7 (Miller, 1956).


  1. Baddeley, A. (1990). Human memory: Theory and practice. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  2. 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.

(Revised October 2010)