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See Inside June/July 2008

Your Inner Spam Filter

What makes you so smart? Might be your lizard brain

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.

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