‘Shrunken skull. And old.’ –James Joyce

A cornerstone of cognitive science is that mental systems are limited: There is a maximum amount of information they can process or store, beyond which performance breaks down. Yet so far the study of such limits has been focused on core systems like attention and memory. Here we explore the limit of self-representation, the ability to represent someone or something as you. […]

results are consistent with the view that the mind employs a cognitive architecture that can represent at most one self at a time, and which serially switches out the items it represents. […]

The self-representational limit of one item at a time differs markedly from known limits on other systems, like attention and short-term memory. The number of items we can both track and remember in short-term memory is greater than one, and somewhat flexible depending on the nature of the stimuli and their relations. For instance, people can track more items if they are evenly spaced out on the display rather than clumped together (Alvarez & Franconeri, 2007), remember more items if they are less complex (e.g., simple colors rather than shaded cubes) (Alvarez & Cavanagh, 2004), and both track and remember more items if they span the visual hemifields rather than occur within a single visual hemifield (Alvarez & Cavanagh, 2005; Strong & Alvarez, 2020). Self-representation appears to have a limit that is more severe and inflexible.

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