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C Style: Standards and Guidelines (contents)

CHAPTER 2 : Psychological Factors

PART 1 : BASICS

CHAPTER 2 : Psychological Factors

2.1 Pattern Recognition
2.2 Filtering
2.3 Habit
2.4 Redundancy
2.5 Cues and Context
2.6 Recognizing Basic features
2.7 Short Term, Working and Long Term memory
2.8 Chunking
2.9 The Rule of Seven
2.10 Context Switching
2.11 Modifying the image
2.12 Memorizing sounds
2.13 Eye focus
2.14 Eye movement
2.15 Looking ahead
2.16 Looking back
2.17 The subconscious is always right
2.18 Natural ambition
2.19 Summary

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2.8 Chunking

A primary method that the brain uses to help it absorb more information is called 'chunking'. One chunk is a recognizable piece of information that be fitted into one of the 'slots' in short-term memory. The actual amount of information in a chunk is quite variable - it need only be recognizable as a single packet. Very importantly, a chunk may contain other chunks, which allows us to assimilate large amounts of information at once. Thus we can remember and recognize a person as single chunk.

Consider newspapers and magazines articles. The heading is big and visible. The article itself tends to be fairly brief. Paragraphs are small. If the article is more than a few lines long, it is broken up with sub headings, out-of-context quotes, pictures, etc. It is delimited with blank and solid lines. Everything possible is done to break it up and give the brain time to stop and take in each piece of the message.

It is this ability which makes block structured languages like C so natural to use. The program is a single chunk, which is divided and subdivided into smaller and smaller chunks, each visibly and logically distinguishable.

A knowledgeable reader can read in big chunks, whilst a less experience reader must work in smaller chunks. Thus the author of a function can read a complex expression as single chunk, whilst a new reader must break it down into variables and operators and understand these individual chunks before he can piece it back together into a single understood chunk.

 

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