Many years ago, I heard the assertion that the conscious mind could only hold between seven chunks of information (plus or minus two) at any one time. Miller's paper
is very widely cited, but its central tenet was not even tested back in 1956 and it turns out the more likely number is between three and four.
That revelation came at a recent Kahneman-lite talk where a psychologist confessed that "gullibility" had led her to include a falsehood in her most recent book. It was only post-publication that she discovered that contrary to popular belief habits don't take fifty-two days to form. The reality there is that it takes much less time - BJ Fogg at Stanford claims it can be achieved within a week.
Unfortunately for the candid psychologist, she then went on to repeat Iyengar's paradox of choice experiment. The one which found that a stall offering a choice of six jams actually sold more jam than a stall offering a choice of twenty-four jams even though the bigger selection drew a larger crowd in the first place and, in so doing questions the idea that people prefer choice.
What the psychologist didn't appear to have heard was that there hads been some trouble
replicating the result. And, if you think about it, Amazon and various paint companies are doing just fine with their multiple offerings. Perhaps the jam experiment told us more about ease of selection rather than actual choice, but the jury's still out on that one.
And, of course, we've all heard that old chestnut about body language and tone contributing 93% to communication. But think about that for a moment and you might start to wonder why we needed to develop spoken language at all if that were the case. But it isn't and wasn't the case. The study was designed to test a specific point in a specific context and Mehrabian has spent the past twenty years trying to quash the misinterpretation.
Nobody at the lecture questioned the expert's ideas - not even the expert. It was an unimpressive lecture, but I learned a lot.