How much can she remember?

It is a cliche about human memory that we can hold in our temporary
or “short term” memory “7 plus or minus 2” items. So for example if
phone numbers had more than their 7 or 8 digits we’d find them very
much harder to hold in our heads after hearing them once.

Today Lillian invented a little game. We were reading a book called
“Picture this…”. She likes to invent variations on spelling out the
words. This time counted the letters (11) and decided that instead of
saying each letter, she’d name one animal for each letter.
So she
pointed at the P, and said Whale, the i and said Tiger, and so on. As
she was doing this it suddenly occurred to me that this would be a
spontaneous demonstration of her short term memory capacity, because to
name a new animal for each letter, she’d have to remember all the
animals she’d already named.

As she passed the u (the fifth letter) she had to maintain five
previous animals in memory AND think of a new one. So this was actually
harder than a straight memory task. It was an example of a situation
cognitive scientists often put their subjects in, asking them to do one
moderately taxing mental task while trying to do another.

I was eagerly waiting to see what she’d do.

At the r, she said “Tiger again.”

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