By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Give me the bite-sized version, break it down into pieces, and tell it to me step-by-step. The brain loves to segment, and the process known as "chunking" seems to be a central part of how we recognize patterns, manage information, and form new insights. A recent perspective on the process is articulated by Cambridge neuroscientist Daniel Bor in his book, The Ravenous Brain (2012). According to Dr. Bor, this ability to chunk is a key feature -- perhaps the key feature -- in human consciousness. "The process of combining more primitive pieces of information to create something more meaningful," he writes, "is a crucial aspect both of learning and of consciousness and is one of the defining features of human experience."
The book covers a broad sweep, and it is likely that I’ll be mining it for future posts. But one of the clearest implications of Bor’s thesis is that practical persuaders need to adapt to the brain’s preference for patterns by giving the gray matter what it’s looking for. And if it's true that an essential element in making meaning is conveying these chunks of information, the "small nuggets of meaning that are particularly salient," then that is a very important concept for persuaders to understand. While much of the media attention regarding Bor's work (e.g. this piece from Lifehacker) has focused on use as a memory aid to remember longer and longer chains of numbers, for example, the more basic implication of chunking lies in giving us insight into how we experience and perceive. Though chunking "can vastly increase the practical limits of working memory," Bor clarifies, "it is not merely a faithful servant of working memory -- instead it is the secret master of this online store, and the main purpose of consciousness." A recognition of components and an ability to organize them into patterns is nothing short of the substructure of how we perceive, think, and are persuaded. This need to break information into chunks has implications for all communicators, including litigators at all phases of trial: voir dire, opening, witness examination, and closing.