George Armitage Miller

George Armitage Miller
George A. Miller
Born February 3, 1920 (1920-02-03) (age 91)
Charleston, West Virginia
Residence U.S.
Nationality US-American
Fields Psychology, Cognitive Science
Institutions Princeton University
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Rockefeller University
Oxford University
American Psychological Association
Known for The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two
overseeing development of WordNet
Notable awards National Medal of Science (1991)
Louis E. Levy Medal (1991)[1][2]

George Armitage Miller (born February 3, 1920 in Charleston, West Virginia) is the author of one of the most highly cited papers in psychology, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two"[3] published in 1956 in Psychological Review.[4][5][6] This paper suggests that seven (plus or minus two) is the magic number that characterizes people's memory performance on random lists of letters, words, numbers, or almost any kind of meaningful familiar item.

According to a widely cited multi-method empirical study, Miller is the 20th most historically important psychologist of the 20th century.[7]



Miller received his PhD in 1946 from Harvard University, based on military research he did during the war on the topic of speech perception, under the supervision of Stanley Smith Stevens.[8]

In 1960, Miller founded the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard with Jerome Bruner, a cognitive developmentalist. In the same year, he published a key book in the development of nonbehaviorist psychology, 'Plans and the Structure of Behaviour' (with Eugene Galanter and Karl Pribram), which outlined their conception of Cognitive Psychology.

He is known in the linguistics community, for overseeing the development of WordNet, a semantic network for the English language. He is also known for coining Miller's Law: In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.

He is presently professor of psychology at Princeton University's Department of Psychology. He formerly served as Professor of Psychology at Rockefeller University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard University, where he was Chairman of the Department of Psychology. He was a Fulbright Research Fellow at Oxford University. He is also a former President of the American Psychological Association, and in 1991, received the National Medal of Science.

Magic number seven

Working memory is generally considered to have limited capacity. The earliest quantification of the capacity limit associated with short-term memory was the "magical number seven" introduced by Miller (1956).[3] He noticed that the memory span of young adults was around seven elements, called chunks, regardless whether the elements were digits, letters, words, or other units. Later research revealed that span does depend on the category of chunks used (e.g., span is around seven for digits, around six for letters, and around 5 for words), and even on features of the chunks within a category. For instance, span is lower for long than for short words. In general, memory span for verbal contents (digits, letters, words, etc.) strongly depends on the time it takes to speak the contents aloud, and on the lexical status of the contents (i.e., whether the contents are words known to the person or not).[9] Several other factors also affect a person's measured span, and therefore it is difficult to pin down the capacity of short-term or working memory to a number of chunks. Nonetheless, Cowan (2001)[10] has proposed that working memory has a capacity of about four chunks in young adults (and less in children and old adults).

WordNet and Simpli

George Miller was the founder of WordNet, a linguistic knowledgebase that maps the way the mind stores and uses language. Development began in 1985 and the project has received about $3 million of funding, mainly from government agencies interested in machine translation. He spent the later part of his career building and expanding this database. He also worked on a number of commercial applications based on WordNet, most notably, Simpli. Simpli was an early Internet search and marketing engine created by George Miller and a number of Professors and graduate students at Brown University, including Jeff Stibel, James A. Anderson and Steve Reiss. Simpli utilized WordNet to "read" search queries and disambiguate them. It was also used to read webpages and derive representative keywords so that advertising could be presented. Applied Semantics, a competing search engine that was eventually acquired by Google and evolved into Google AdSense, was based on the WordNet lexicon, as well.[11]

Educational offices
Preceded by
Abraham Maslow
77th President of the

American Psychological Association

Succeeded by
George W. Albee


  1. ^ "Franklin Laureate Database - George A. Miller". The Franklin Institute. Retrieved January 22, 2011 (2011-01-22). 
  2. ^ "Franklin Laureate Database - Louis E. Levy Medal Laureates". Franklin Institute. Retrieved January 22, 2011 (2011-01-22). 
  3. ^ a b Miller, G. A. (1956). "The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information". Psychological Review 63 (2): 81–97. doi:10.1037/h0043158. PMID 13310704.  (pdf)
  4. ^ Gorenflo, Daniel W., McConnell, James V. (1991). "The Most Frequently Cited Journal Articles and Authors in Introductory Psychology Textbooks", Teaching of Psychology, 18: 8 – 12
  5. ^ Kintsch W, Cacioppo JT.(1994). Introduction to the 100th anniversary issue of the Psychological Review. Psychological Review. 101: 195-199
  6. ^ Garfied E., (1985). Essays of an Information Scientist, 8: 187-196; Current Contents, (#20, p.3-12, May 20)
  7. ^ Haggbloom, S.J. et al, 2002, The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century, Review of General Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 2, 139–152.
  8. ^ Lindzey, G. (1989). A History of psychology in autobiography. Stanford University Press.
  9. ^ Hulme, C., Roodenrys, S., Brown, G., & Mercer, R. (1995). The role of long-term memory mechanisms in memory span. British Journal of Psychology, 86, 527-536.
  10. ^ Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87-185
  11. ^ "Google Acquires Applied Semantics" (Press release). Google. April 23, 2003. Retrieved 2008-12-02. 

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