What Is Capacity in Cognitive Psychology?


Martha Robinson

Capacity in Cognitive Psychology – Explained

Cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes such as attention, language use, perception, problem-solving, and memory. One of the essential concepts in cognitive psychology is the notion of capacity. Capacity refers to the amount of information that an individual can process at a given time.

What Is Capacity?

Capacity is the maximum amount of information that a person can hold in their memory or process in their mind at any given moment. It is like a cup’s capacity to hold water; similarly, the brain has its limits regarding how much information it can handle at once.

Sensory Memory Capacity

Sensory memory is a type of memory that holds information in its original sensory form for a very brief period (usually less than half a second). Sensory memory capacity varies depending on the type of information perceived. The iconic memory (visual sensory) and echoic memory (auditory sensory) have different capacities.

Working Memory Capacity

Working memory capacity refers to the amount of information an individual can hold temporarily while performing cognitive tasks like learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Working memory has limited space and can only hold about seven items (plus or minus two) for 15-30 seconds without rehearsal.

  • Chunking:
  • The ability to group various pieces of information into meaningful chunks enables us to remember more things.
  • Interference:
  • The more difficult it is to differentiate between similar items stored in working memory, the more interference occurs.

Long-Term Memory Capacity

Long-term memory capacity refers to our ability to store information and retrieve it later when needed. Long-term memories are stored in different areas of our brain and are theoretically limitless.

  • Encoding:
  • Encoding refers to the process of transforming sensory information into a form that can be stored in long-term memory.
  • Retrieval:
  • Retrieval is the process of recalling information from long-term memory when needed.


Capacity is a crucial concept in cognitive psychology as it helps us understand how much information our brain can process at one time. Sensory memory, working memory, and long-term memory all have different capacities and limitations. By understanding these limitations, we can optimize our learning and cognitive performance.