Information processing theory

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Information processing theory


IP Theory, IPT

Alternate name(s)

This summary concerns IPT as developed by George Miller. However, there is another information processing theory known as Organizational Information Processing Theory (OIPT), conceived by Jay Galbraith. IS researchers have largely drawn from Miller's IPT, but some have also used Galbraith's OIPT.

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Perception, thinking, learning, memory, attention, creativity and reasoning

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

External stimulus

Concise description of theory

George A. Miller has provided two theoretical ideas that are fundamental to the information processing framework and cognitive psychology more generally. The first concept is `chunking' and the capacity of short term (working) memory. Miller (1956) presented the idea that short-term memory could only hold 5-9 chunks of information (seven plus or minus two) where a chunk is any meaningful unit. A chunk could refer to digits, words, chess positions, or people's faces. The concept of chunking and the limited capacity of short term memory became a basic element of all subsequent theories of memory.

The second concept, that of information processing, uses the computer as a model for human learning. Like the computer, the human mind takes in information, performs operations on it to change its form and content, stores and locates it and generates reponses to it. Thus, processing involves gathering and representing information, or encoding; holding information or retention; and getting at the information when needed, or retrieval. Information processing theorists approach learning primarily through a study of memory.


According to this view, there are three kinds of memory: Sensory registers (the part of the memory that receives all the information a person senses), Short-term memory (STM) (also known as working memory, the part of memory where new information is held temporarily until it is either lost or placed into long-term memory), and Long-term memory (LTM) (the part of memory which has an unlimited capacity and can hold information indefinitely). The key factors for effective encoding of information include ensuring that the material is meaningful and that activation of prior knowledge occurs. Strategies for assisting encoding include chunking (breaking the information up into manageable chunks), rehearsal , imagery, mnemonics, schema activation, and level of processing.


Diagram/schematic of theory



Originating author(s)

George A. Miller

Seminal articles

Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97

Miller, G.A., Galanter, E., & Pribram, K.H. (1960). Plans and the Structure of Behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Zellner, A. Optimal Information Processing and Bayes's Theorem," The American Statistician, 42, 1988, 278-284, (with discussion by Jaynes, Kullback, Hill and Bernardo).

Originating area

Cognitive Psychology

Level of analysis


IS articles that use the theory

Anandarajan, M., & Arinze, B. (1998). Matching client/server processing architectures with information processing requirements: A.. Information & Management, 34(5), 265.

Anandarajan, Murugan, & Arinze, Bay. (1998). Matching client/server processing architectures with information processing requirements: A contingency study. Information & Management, 34(5), 265.

Andres, H. P., & Zmud, R. W. (2001). A contingency approach to software project coordination. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(3), 41.

Argyres, S, N. (1999). The impact of information technology on coordination: Evidence from the B-2 "stealth" bomber. Organization Science, 10(2), 162.

Bolon, S, D. (1998). Information processing theory: Implications for health care organizations. International Journal of Technology Management, 15(3,4,5), 211.

Burke, K., Aytes, K., & Chidambaram, L. (2001). Media effects on the development of cohesion and process satisfaction in computer-supported workgroups: An analysis of results from two longitudinal studies. Information Technology & People, 14(2), 122.

Chidambaram, Laku. (1996). Relational development in computer-supported groups. MIS Quarterly, 20(2), 143.

Cooper, R. B., & Wolfe, R. A. (2005). Information processing model of information technology adaptation: An intra-organizational diffusion perspective. Database for Advances in Information Systems, 36(1), 30.

Francalanci, C., & Galal, H. (1998). Information technology and worker composition: Determinants of productivity in the life insurance industry. MIS Quarterly, 22(2), 227.

Gallivan, M. J., Spitler, V. K., & Koufaris, M. (2005). Does information technology training really matter? A social information processing analysis of coworkers' influence on IT usage in the workplace. Journal of Management Information Systems, 22(1), 153.

Gattiker, T. F., & Goodhue, D. L. (2005). What happens after erp implementation: Understanding the impact of inter-dependence and differentiation on plant-level outcomes. MIS Quarterly, 29(3), 559-585.

Gattiker, T. F., & Goodhue, D. L. (2005). What happens after erp implementation: Understanding the impact of interdependence and differentiation on plant-level Outcomes. MIS Quarterly, 29(3), 559.

Gattiker, T. F., & Goodhue, D. L. (2004). Understanding the local-level costs and benefits of ERP through organizational information processing theory. Information & Management, 41(4), 431.

Goodhue, L, D., Wybo, D, M.,& Kirsch, J, L. (1992). The impact of data integration on the costs and benefits of. MIS Quarterly, 16(3), 293.

Hamilton, M. A., & Nowak, K. L. (2005). Information systems concepts across two decades: An empirical analysis of trends in theory, methods, process, and research domains. Journal of Communication, 55(3), 529-553.

Hobman, E. V., Bordia, P., Irmer, B., & Chang, A. (2002). The expression of conflict in computer-mediated and face-to-face groups. Small Group Research, 33(4), 439.

Jain, H., Vitharana, P., & Zahedi, F. (. (2003). An assessment model for requirements identification in component-based software development. Database for Advances in Information Systems, 34(4), 48.

Jarvenpaa, L, S., Ives, & Blake. (1993). Organizing for global competition: The fit of information technology. Decision Sciences, 24(3), 547.

June Wei, & Salvendy, G. (2004). The cognitive task analysis methods for job and task design: Review and reappraisal. Behaviour & Information Technology, 23(4), 273-299.

Kahai, S. S., & Cooper, R. B. (1999). The effect of computer-mediated communication on agreement and acceptance. Journal of Management Information Systems, 16(1), 165.

Kyu, K. K., & Umanath, S, N. (1992). Structure and perceived effectiveness of software development subunits: A task contingency analysis. Journal of Management Information Systems, 9(3), 157.

Kyu K, K., & Umanath, N. S. (1992). Structure and perceived effectiveness of software development subunits: A task contingency analysis. Journal of Management Information Systems, 9(3), 157.

Lin, H. X., Choong, Y., & Salvendy, G. (1997). A proposed index of usability: A method for comparing the relative usability of different software systems. Behaviour & Information Technology, 16(4), 267-277.

Macpherson, K. (2004). An information processing model of undergraduate electronic database information retrieval. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 55(4), 333-347.

Premkumar, G., Ramamurthy, K., & Saunders, C. S. (2005). Information processing view of organizations: An exploratory examination of fit in the context of interorganizational relationships. Journal of Management Information Systems, 22(1), 257.

Reddy, S. B. (1995). Information Technology and the Structure of the Multinational Enterprise Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.from

Rice, R. K., & Shook, D. E. (1990). Relationships of job categories and organizational levels to use of communication channels, including electronic mail: A meta-analysis and extension. Journal of Management Studies, 27(2), 195.

Rogers, P. R., & Bamford, C. E. (2002). Information planning process and strategic orientation the importance of fit in high-performing organizations. Journal of Business Research, 55(3), 205-215.

Sicotte, H., & Langley, A. (2000). Integration mechanisms and R&D project performance. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 17(1), 1.

Stock, G. N., & Tatikonda, M. V. (2004). External technology integration in product and process development. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 24(7), 642.

Tatikonda, M. V., & Rosenthal, S. R. (2000). Technology novelty, project complexity, and product development project execution success: A deeper look at task uncertainty in product innovation. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 47(1), 74.

Thow-Yick, & Liang. (1996). The basic entity model: A theoretical model of information processing, decision making and information systems. Information Processing & Management, 32(4), 477.

Tractinsky, Noam, & Jarvenpaa, L, S. (1995). Information systems design decisions in a global versus domestic context. MIS Quarterly, 19(4), 507.

Tuggle . F. D, & Gerwin, D. (1980). An information processing model of organizational perception, strategy and choice. Management Science (Pre-1986), 26(6), 575.

Umanath, S, N., & Campbell, L, T. (1994). Differential diffusion of information systems technology in multinational enterprises: A research model. Information Resources Management Journal, 7(1), 6.

Viator, R. E. (2000). Accounting information systems doctoral dissertations: 1999. Journal of Information Systems, 14(2), 151.

Walther, J. B., Loh, T., & Granka, L. (2005). Let me count the ways: the interchange of verbal and nonverbal cues in computer- mediated and face-to-face affinity. Journal of Language & Social Psychology, 24(1), 36-65.

Zmud, R. W. (1979). Individual differences and mis success: A review of the empirical literature. Management Science (Pre-1986), 25(10), 966.

Links from this theory to other theories

Organizational information processing theory, Absorptive capacity theory, Transactive memory theory, Organizational knowledge creation

External links, The WELL community, Theory Into Practice (TIP) database, Charles Sturt University, Valdosta University - Educational Psychology Interactive - developed by W. Huitt, Downloadable papers on optimal information processing theory and other topics from the Website of Arnold Zellner

Original Contributor(s)

Hossam Ali-Hassan

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