With Development, List Recall Includes More Chunks, Not Just Larger Ones

Nelson Cowan, Anna Hismjatullina, Angela M. AuBuchon, J. Scott Saults, Neil Horton, Kathy Leadbitter, John Towse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The nature of the childhood development of immediate recall has been difficult to determine. There could be a developmental increase in either the number of chunks held in working memory or the use of grouping to make the most of a constant capacity. In 3 experiments with children in the early elementary school years and adults, we show that improvements in the immediate recall of word and picture lists come partly from increases in the number of chunks of items retained in memory. This finding was based on a distinction between access to a studied group of items (i.e., recall of at least 1 item from the group) and completion of the accessed group (i.e., the proportion of the items recalled from the group). Access rates increased with age, even with statistical controls for completion rates, implicating development of capacity in chunks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1119-1131
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Capacity
  • Chunking
  • Grouping
  • Working memory
  • Working memory capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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