How many things
can a person pay attention to
at one time?

7 ± 2

George A. Miller.
The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information.
Psychological Review, vol 63, no. 2, pages 81-97 (March 1956).
doi: 10.1037/h0043158

Alan Baddeley.
The magical number seven: Still magic after all these years?
Psychological Review, vol 101, no 2, pages 353-356 (April 1994).
doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.101.2.353

4 ± 1

Nelson Cowan.
The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 24, issue 1, pages 87-114 (February 2001),
doi: 10.1017/S0140525X01003922

 Cowan's article is the first of about two dozen in this issue on various aspects of the problem, followed by Cowan's response (“Metatheory of storage capacity limits”, pages 154-176) in which he defends the number 4.

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