Anyone who has tried to find an urgent e-mail amid masses of advertisements for dubious stock opportunities and sexual-enhancement drugs understands the critical importance of being able to filter out distracting information. That e-mail you seek may be in there, but it is lost among irrelevant clutter.
Although the capacity of our computer’s e-mail in-box is limited only by disk space, our mental “in-box” of working memory—the brain regions and processes that create temporary storage—is much more constrained. In fact, several decades of research have indicated that our capacity to hold information “in mind” for immediate use is limited to a mere three or four items.
This article was originally published with the title Your Inner Spam Filter.