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How much RAM do humans have?

Humans do not have Random Access Memory (RAM) in the same way computers do. However, the human brain does have memory systems that serve functions similar to RAM in computers.

What is RAM?

RAM, or random access memory, is a type of computer data storage that allows information to be accessed randomly at very fast speeds. Data in RAM can be read and written directly by the CPU, allowing quick access to running programs and data. It is considered “volatile” memory since information in RAM is lost when the computer is turned off.

Some key characteristics of RAM include:

  • Temporary storage: Information stored in RAM is only there while the computer is on. It is deleted when the computer is powered down.
  • Speed: RAM is much faster than other types of data storage like hard drives or SSDs. It can transfer data directly with the CPU.
  • Volatility: Data in RAM is deleted when the computer loses power. Information must be saved to non-volatile memory like hard drives if it needs to persist.
  • Random access: Any data in RAM can be accessed directly and quickly no matter where it is physically stored. This random accessibility makes it fast.

Computers use RAM to store short-term information that is currently in use or expected to be used very soon. This includes data like running applications, files being edited, and operating system processes. Keeping frequently used information in RAM allows for much faster access compared to storage drives.

How is human memory similar to RAM?

While the human brain does not have physical RAM chips like a computer, it does contain memory systems that serve some of the same purposes:

  • Short-term memory – Stores current information being actively processed. Similar to how RAM holds current working data.
  • Working memory – Manipulates a limited amount of information held temporarily. Like RAM allowing CPU access.
  • Quick access – Important memories can be retrieved quickly, similar to RAM’s speed.
  • Limited capacity – Human memory has capacity limits requiring organization and forgetting, like RAM size limits.

In particular, a type of short-term memory called working memory relates closely to the function of RAM. Working memory allows temporarily holding a small amount of information in mind and mentally working with it. This could involve thinking about a phone number you just heard in order to dial it.

Working Memory as a Human Version of RAM

Working memory is a short-term memory system that allows humans to keep information in mind after it is no longer physically present and work with it mentally. It serves as sort of a “mental scratchpad” that can be used for cognitive tasks.

Some key features of working memory that compare to RAM include:

  • Limited capacity – Can only hold about 4 “chunks” of information at once before forgetting.
  • Temporary storage – Items are only retained for about 15-30 seconds without rehearsal.
  • Quick access – Important items can be retrieved and manipulated rapidly.
  • Forgetting/clearing – Information is quickly forgotten when no longer needed, “clearing” the memory.

Researchers hypothesize working memory evolved to help humans quickly think about and use information that is relevant in the moment. It acts like a workspace where ephemeral thoughts can be temporarily stored, manipulated, and used for complex cognition.

Quantifying Working Memory Capacity

Many studies have attempted to quantify the storage limits of working memory in humans. The most common capacity estimate is that working memory can hold about 4 “chunks” of information. For example, 4 random words, 4 short numbers, etc.

However, working memory capacity can vary significantly between individuals. Some key factors include:

  • Age – Capacity increases in early development, peaks around age 20, then declines in older adulthood.
  • Practice – Memory skills can be improved with training, increasing capacity.
  • Genetics – Some genetic factors may influence baseline memory capacity.
  • Attention – Focusing attention on information can extend working memory capacity for those items.

Overall working memory is a critical cognitive function with a limited capacity. The 4 chunk average serves as a useful estimate, but the true capacity is flexible within individuals depending on focus, skills, genetics, and age.

Age Impacts on Working Memory Capacity

Working memory capacity increases throughout childhood and into adolescence as brain systems mature. It peaks sometime around young adulthood, roughly age 20-25.

Capacity then gradually declines again steadily through older adulthood. However, decline rate and trajectory can vary significantly between individuals.

Age Range Average Working Memory Capacity
5 years old 1.5 chunks
10 years old 3 chunks
16 years old 4 chunks
20-25 years old 4-5 chunks
65 years old 2-3 chunks

As illustrated, capacity increases rapidly in childhood, reaching near adult levels around age 16. It peaks in early adulthood before slowly declining again around age 65.

Strategies for Improving Working Memory

While working memory capacity is constrained, some strategies can help improve and maximize working memory function:

  • Chunking – Grouping related bits of information into “chunks”. Remembering 5 chunks of 2 pieces of data is easier than 10 individual pieces.
  • Remove distractions – Minimize external distractions to focus attention and avoid overload.
  • Practice – Complete brain training games and exercises targeting working memory.
  • Mnemonics – Use memory techniques like acronyms or visualization to encode information.
  • Reduce anxiety – Anxiety can impair working memory performance. Relaxation helps.

Leveraging strategies like these can help individuals improve their general working memory abilities. This is analogous to upgrading RAM capacity in a computer – using methods to maximize a constrained memory system.


Human memory does not have computer-like hardware, but it does include specialized systems like working memory that serve similar functions to RAM. Working memory allows rapidly storing, accessing, and manipulating information temporarily. It acts as mental workspace to support complex cognition. Understanding the capabilities and limits of working memory provides insight into the human mind and how we process information.

While working memory has constraints like limited capacity, it can be improved and optimized through focused strategies. Like managing RAM usage in computers, maximizing the efficiency of working memory allows humans to make the most of this critical cognitive resource.