How Many Variables Can Humans Process?
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The conceptual complexity of problems was manipulated to probe the limits of human information processing capacity. Participants were asked to interpret graphically displayed statistical interactions. In such problems, all independent variables need to be considered together, so that decomposition into smaller subtasks is constrained, and thus the order of the interaction directly determines conceptual complexity. As the order of the interaction increases, the number of variables increases. Results showed a significant decline in accuracy and speed of solution from three-way to four-way interactions. Furthermore, performance on a five-way interaction was at chance level. These findings suggest that a structure defined on four variables is at the limit of human processing capacity.