The magical number seven, plus or minus two
In an earlier post on best practices for likert scale questions, I made reference to an article “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information”. A reader pointed out to me that this is one the most famous social psychology articles (by George A. Miller, 1956).
A main conclusion of the article is that most people can only deal with seven ideas at a time. Very clever people can manage up to nine and less skilled people may only be able to concentrate on five ideas at once.
Putting this theory into practice, I can see plenty of examples which call out for the “seven point limit”, such as:
- Number of chapters in a report
- Number of recommendations in reports (if there are more than seven then they should be broken down under sub-headings)
- Number of points on a likert scale question (see my previous post on this)
- Lists of variables/aspects that must be ranked/rated on surveys (e.g. “please rate the following aspects of the website..”)
- Items on a checklist to be assessed (see my previous post on checklists)
And that’s only five ideas so us less skilled people can cope…