Understanding And Utilizing The Primacy And Recency Effect 

Have you ever been in those situations where you went out shopping and forgot your grocery list at home? Upon reaching the store, you, unfortunately, forgot a lot of important things. When you came back and verified your purchases, you were surprisingly able to recall the items at the top and bottom of the list. This ability to recall the items in a list depending on their position is called the serial position effect. 

First discovered in the 1960s by psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus, the serial position effect is divided into two types – primacy and recency effect. Let us dive deeper into primacy and recency effects and how they can be utilized in various spheres of our lives.

 Recency Effect

What is the primacy effect in psychology?

The primacy effect in psychology is the phenomenon where things that happen first have greater importance as they influence the events that follow them. As per the primacy effect, a person is able to recall the first few items on the list much more easily than the latter items.

The primacy effect is based on the theory that considering an item individually requires less processing time. So when you are processing the tenth item on a list, you are also processing the first nine items, which means that recalling those items becomes difficult. 

But when you recall the first item, you recall it individually, and therefore you can easily identify it.

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What is the recency effect in psychology?

The recency effect in psychology is the phenomenon that things that happen more recently are of greater importance as they give a more apt picture of ‘now.’ As per the recency effect, a person is able to recall the last few items on a list much more easily than the former ones.

The recency effect is based on the theory that our short-term memory – the working memory that processes immediate responses and consciousness– preserves them. Short-term memory acts like a buffer while the brain processes long-term memory. The middle part of the list is likely to be forgotten even if you read everything. 

Utilization Of Primacy And Recency Effect

1. Education

Educators and teachers around the world can use the primary and recency effect and create lessons built around students’ ability to recall the first and last items easily. Starting any class with an exciting hook or ending with a good summary can help the lesson become more memorable for students.

2. Advertising

Advertisers can also use the serial position effect and put the benefits of their product at the beginning or end of the advertisement to help influence the buyers’ purchase decision more effectively. 

3. Public Speaking

Public speakers can also use this psychological phenomenon to maximize the audience’s recall after the session has ended. By ensuring that the address begins with a thumping introduction and a memorable conclusion, the speaker can ensure that the event is successful and in people’s minds for a longer time.

Read more: Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Theory Explained


The serial position effect was first founded by Herman Ebbinghaus in the 1960s. It is the ability of a person to recall the first and last items of a list much more easily than the middle ones. The effect is divided into two types – primacy and recency effect. The effect can be utilized in multiple domains like education, public speaking, and advertising.

Apart from the serial position effect, there are other interesting psychological phenomena that you should know about. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that help a person learn new concepts easily. To learn more about them, click here.

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