What's in a Name? The Multiple Meanings of "Chunk" and "Chunking"

Fernand Gobet, Martyn Lloyd-Kelly, Peter Lane

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The term chunk, denoting a unit, and the related term chunking, denoting a mechanism to construct that unit, are familiar terms within psychology and cognitive science. The Oxford English Dictionary provides several definitions for “chunk.” First, “a thick, more or less cuboidal, lump, cut off anything,” or, colloquially, “a large or substantial amount.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides similar definitions. OUP's Oxford Dictionary alone gives a computer-related meaning: “a section of information or data.” It is in this context, a chunk as a section of information, that the word is used within psychology and cognitive science.

In these fields, a chunk typically refers to a single unit built from several smaller elements, and chunking to the process of creating a chunk. Gobet et al. (2001, p. 236) define a chunk as “a collection of elements having strong associations with one another, but weak associations with elements within other chunks.” However, in different contexts and with different authors, these two terms are used with a variety of meanings, which are very often conflated, leading to considerable confusion. Table 1 provides a taxonomy of the main meanings of “chunk” and “chunking,” which will be used to structure this article.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2016


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