Make Better Impressions Using the Primary-Recency Effect

Before going into the Primary-Recency effect and why it’s awesome, let’s first talk about our brain’s memory so it would be clearer later on as to how the Primary-Recency effect works.

Our brain’s memory is a fickle thing. We often forget various things in our day-to-day lives. Part of this is due to the fact that our brain works with limited power. While its power is limited, capacity may not be. We actually have memories with unlimited capacity. We just forget things because we store them in the wrong place, such as our short-term memory. Our short-term memory can only handle around 7 “chunks” of data. These “chunks” are bits of data that our brain stores. In fact, according to Miller’s rule 1, our working memory can only hold the magical number of 7 ± 2 objects at a time. This is also the reason why phone numbers have around that many digits. Cool, right? If we can transfer this data to our long-term memory, which has unlimited capacity, then we could rest easy knowing that we won’t forget any of it.

Also, memory is a three-step process: encoding, storage, and retrieval. It’s in the retrieval step that things get jumbled up. Our recall is imperfect that’s why some aspects of our memory may be obtuse compared to others.

But even if recall may be imperfect, there are some things we don’t easily forget – the first and last things. The Primary–Recency effect is an interesting phenomenon which explains why our brain likes to remember the first and last things more clear compared to the those in the middle.

The Primary Effect states that our brain likes to remember the first things. This is also why first impressions last. For example, if someone told you names of 5 of his friends, you are more likely to remember the first name than the others.

The Recency Effect is even more dominant than the Primary Effect. It states that you are most likely to remember the latest or the most “recent” things, hence the name. Using the same example, if someone told you names of 5 of his friends, you are most likely to remember the last of the names compared to the other 4 names.

These two psychological phenomena are usually combined into what is known as the Primary-Recency Effect.

Let’s Test it Out

We were feeling curious, so we asked 15 boys and 15 girls to read aloud a set of 20 words and then gave then 1 minute to memorize these words. After which, they had to enumerate the words they remembered. Feel free to try it out for yourself also!

The 20 words were as follows:

  1. Cat
  2. Apple
  3. Ball
  4. Tree
  5. Square
  6. Head
  7. House
  8. Door
  9. Box
  10. Car
  11. King
  12. Hammer
  13. Milk
  14. Fish
  15. Book
  16. Tape
  17. Arrow
  18. Flower
  19. Key
  20. Shoe  2

Here’s a chart that shows what the respondents remembered. The green boxes indicate words that were successfully retained in memory.

memory data - Make Better Impressions Using the Primary-Recency Effect

There is clearly a pattern in the chart above. Most words that were still retained in the respondents’ memories were usually the first few or last few words. It is apparent that the words in the middle of the list were rarely recalled.

If you were curious enough to try the experiment, most probably you also have similar results. Let us know in the comments if otherwise. 🙂

How to Take Advantage of the Primary-Recency Effect

Marketing people take advantage of this effect all the time. They do this by showing the products they want people to buy either at the first or last part of a campaign. And guess what? they usually win.

Normal people can also put this amazing effect to their advantage in many ways.

For example, when giving presentations or preparing reports, make sure that the first and last sections are really striking and compelling, even if the middle content is not that great. Since your audience will most likely remember only the first and last parts, you will have won them over. This is also why successful people love to start presentations with questions or end presentations with quotes. Another example is if you want to emphasize something, say it towards the last so that people will remember it the most.

This is just one tiny example, but you can utilize the Primary-Recency Effect to your advantage in many, many other situations in life. Just keep in mind that the first and last things are always the most remembered by people. It’s simple science, nothing more.

What’s the fun in living stronger alone? If you found this psychological trick useful, go ahead and share it with the people you care about! Let’s live stronger together!

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