The Recency Effect in Psychology (2023)

The recency effect is the tendency to remember the most recently presented information best. For example, if you are trying to memorize a list of items, the recency effect means you are more likely to recall the items from the list that you studied last. This is one component of the serial position effect, a phenomenon in which the position of items on a list influences how well those items are recalled.

The Recency Effect in Psychology (1)

Recency and Primacy Effects

The serial position effect was first discovered by the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus during experiments on memory. He observed that the ability to accurately recall items from a list was dependent upon the location of the item on that list.

Items found at the end of the list that are learned most recently are recalled best (the recency effect), while the first few items are also recalled better than those found in the middle (the primacy effect).

You have probably experienced this effect many times when you try to learn something new. After learning the information, imagine that you are immediately given a test covering material to see how much you have retained. What information do you think you will remember the best?

Chances are that you will have pretty good recall of the things that you learned last or the most recently. You also likely have good recall of the first few things that you learned. It is that information in the middle of your learning session that you are the most likely to struggle with.

The recency effect can tell us a bit about how memory works. You can also find ways to maximize your memory by better understanding how and why this effect takes place.

Human Memory

How It Works

The recency effect is dependent upon short-term memory. This type of memory, also known as active or primary memory, is the ability to hold a relatively small amount of memory in the mind for a brief period of time. This information is held and kept active for use, but it is not manipulated. Briefly storing a phone number someone just recited to you for long enough to dial it is a good example of short-term memory.

Short-term memory is limited in terms of both capacity and duration. Most information in short-term memory only lasts between 15 and 30 seconds without active maintenance or rehearsal. Approximately four pieces of information can be held in short-term memory for a brief period.

Perhaps not surprisingly, delaying recall after hearing a list of items has a dramatic impact on the recency effect. A very long delay between learning items and recalling will often completely eliminate this effect.

In other words, the recency effect may occur because you are able to easily remember those items that are still being briefly stored in your short-term memory. If you do not rehearse that information, however, it will quickly be lost and fade from memory.

Examples

The recency effect can play a role in many different aspects of daily life.

(Video) Recency Effect

For instance, say you are trying to recall items from your shopping list, which you accidentally left at home. You are easily able to remember the last few things you wrote down, but you can’t seem to recall any of the items in the middle of your list.

Or, the waiter at a restaurant lists a number of different specials. When you are ready to order, you can only recall the last two options that they mentioned.

Another example: As you are researching a new product you are interested in buying, you’re most likely to pay attention to your first impressions and the last thing you heard about the product. If the first thing you hear and the last thing you hear are positive, you are more likely to buy it—even if your research revealed negative information between those two times.

Marketers take advantage of the recency effect by ensuring the beginning and ends of ads are positive and appealing.

Finally, you have an easier time recalling events from your immediate past than you do things from the distant past. For example, while you might have little trouble remembering what you had for breakfast this morning, recalling what you ate two weeks ago would be much more difficult (or even impossible).

Why It Occurs

Both the recency and primacy effects are likely the result of memory processes. There are a few explanations for why the recency effect occurs.

One is that the most recent information is still present in active memory. When testing is conducted immediately after learning, any information that was learned last may still be actively held in short-term memory. This increases the accuracy of recall.

Another explanation is that temporal cues may also help improve recall of the most recently learned information. If a person rehearses a list and is then tested immediately, temporal context can help cue the recall of the information.

Influences

There are also factors that can impact the strength and likelihood of the recency effect occurring. Factors that can influence the occurrence of the recency effect include:

  • Task factors: This refers to the task itself as well as how the information is processed. The length of the information presented and how it is presented can influence the recency effect. If you were presented a very short list of words, for instance, you might find it easy to recall all the items, essentially eliminating the recency effect. A very long list of terms, on the other hand, would be much more likely to produce recency effects.
  • Processing: How you attend to and process the information as it is presented can also affect how it is recalled.
  • Time: If a long period of time elapses between the presentation and rehearsal of the information and recall, the recency effect is dramatically reduced or even eliminated altogether.
  • Intervening tasks: Interference can occur if another task or information is presented after the first task. Research has found that if the distracting task takes longer than 15 to 30 seconds, it will eliminate recency effects when trying to recall the original information.

Impact on Learning

As you might imagine, the recency effect can play an important role in the learning process. When you are learning new information, you are most likely to remember the things that you study first (the primacy effect) as well as those things you study last (the recency effect). This means that when tested on the material, you are more likely to forget the things you learned in the middle.

However, there are things that you can do to adapt your study sessions to take advantage of these memory phenomena. As you structure your study time, realize that the period at the beginning and the period at the end are your prime learning times.

  1. Focus on the most important information at the beginning of your study session to take advantage of the primacy effect. This might involve reviewing important terminology or learning new information.
  2. Use the middle of your learning time to read through old material you have already learned. This period is essentially downtime, but it can be useful for reviewing.
  3. Spend the last part of your study session reviewing what you learned at the beginning of your study session. This can involve rehearsing those important terms or going over your newly learned material.

Doing this will help cement newly learned information into your memory and minimize the chances or forgetting the things you learned in the middle of your study session.

Teachers can also take advantage of the recency effect in how they structure classroom time. The first part of the class should focus on important information. This means skipping over things like basic administrative tasks such as taking attendance and meet-and-greet icebreakers.

The middle section of class might involve a brief break where these formalities might be better attended to. Finally, those last 10 to 20 minutes of the class should focus on circling back to the most important concepts.

(Video) The Primacy and Recency Effect: Psychology Concepts in 60 seconds | Tanvee Maheshwari - FTEM

A Word From Verywell

The recency effect will play a role in what you learn and recall, but there are things you can do to maximize your memory. Taking steps like breaking up study sessions into shorter periods can help. Spend the last few moments that you focus on something reviewing the most important details.

Finally, if you want something you say to stand out in someone’s mind, make sure you convey the most important information right at the end. This can apply to daily conversations, or when you are trying to persuade someone to see things your way, or even during job interviews. First impressions are also critical, but thanks to the recency effect, your parting words can be just as powerful.

What Is Interference?

7 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Murre JM, Dros J. Replication and analysis of Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve. PLoS ONE. 2015;(10)7:e0120644. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0120644

  2. Harvard University: The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. How memory works.

    (Video) Serial Position Effect (Primacy + Recency Examples)

  3. Cowan N. Working memory underpins cognitive development, learning, and education. Educ Psychol Rev. 2014;(26)2:197-223.doi:10.1007/s10648-013-9246-y

  4. Cortis Mack C, Cinel C, Davies N, Harding M, Ward G. Serial position, output order, and list length effects for words presented on smartphones over very long intervals. J Mem Lang. 2017;(97):61-80. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2017.07.009

  5. Lohnas LJ, Kahana MJ. Compound cuing in free recall. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014;(40)1:12-24. doi:10.1037/a0033698

  6. Weiss B, Guse D, Möller S, Raake A, Borowiak A, Reiter U. Temporal development of quality of experience. In: Möller S, Raake A, eds.Quality of Experience. Springer International Publishing; 2014:133-147. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-02681-7_10

  7. Gregory GH. Herndon LE. Differentiated Instructional Strategies for the Block Schedule. Corwin Press.

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FAQs

What is an example of a recency effect? ›

Recency effect definition

Recency effect states that individuals tend to remember more recently presented information better than older information. For example, a person presented with a list of 10 different objects is more likely to remember objects towards the end of the list.

What is recency effect in psychology quizlet? ›

Recency Effect. Tendency to recall the last items in a list best.

What is an example of recency bias? ›

What is recency bias in investing? Recency bias in investing is when people give importance to what occurred recently. For example, if there had been a market crash, investors expect it to continue. This can refrain them from investing and deviating from their financial goals.

What is an example of primacy and recency effect? ›

The primacy effect is connected to the recency effect — the fact that we recall the latest information better. For example, in competitions such as the Eurovision Song Contest and ice skating, it was found that higher marks were given to competitors who performed last De Bruin (2005).

What factors influence the recency effect? ›

Two kinds of factors seem to influence the presence and strength of recency effects in impression formation: (1) how the task is structured and presented (task factors) and (2) how judges process the available information (processing factors).

What is the difference between primacy and recency effect? ›

The primacy effect involves rehearsing items until they enter long-term memory. The recency effect involves the brain's ability to hold up to seven items in short-term memory.

What is the meaning of recency bias? ›

Recency bias is a psychological phenomenon where we give more importance to recent events compared to what happened a while back.

What is the meaning of recency? ›

[ ree-suhn-see ] SHOW IPA. / ˈri sən si / PHONETIC RESPELLING. noun. the fact of being recent, of having occurred a relatively short time ago; closeness of a past event to a later past time or to the present:The general nervousness during that period was mostly due to the recency of the great stock market crash.

What is recency bias? ›

Recency bias, or availability bias, is a cognitive error identified in behavioral economics whereby people incorrectly believe that recent events will occur again soon. This tendency is irrational, as it obscures the true or objective probabilities of events occurring, leading people to make poor decisions.

What does primacy and recency mean in psychology? ›

The Primacy/Recency Effect is the observation that information presented at the beginning (Primacy) and end (Recency) of a learning episode tends to be retained better than information presented in the middle.

What causes primacy and recency? ›

The primacy effect occurs because participants pay attention to the beginning information and ignore the information presented later. On the other hand, if participants are in a situation where they have to continuously pay attention to information, a recency effect may occur.

What is meant by primacy effect? ›

The primacy effect is the tendency for individuals without neurological impairment to show enhanced memory for items presented at the beginning of a list relative to items presented in the middle of the list.

What is primary effect quizlet? ›

Primacy Effect. refers to how you explain other people apart of social perception you have impressions that will stick with you primarily.

Why is there a recency effect at the end of a serial position curve? ›

The reason for recency effect is also explained in terms of the retroactive interference during encoding, i.e., the earlier items suffering interference from the later ones in the list (Oberauer 2003). Thus, the items toward the end of the list interfere with the recall of midlist items producing a recency effect.

What causes serial position effect? ›

The serial position effect is caused by two other memory recall biases called the primacy effect and the recency effect. The primacy effect describes our tendency to better remember information at the beginning of a series.

What is the importance of recency effect? ›

As you might imagine, the recency effect can play an important role in the learning process. When you are learning new information, you are most likely to remember the things that you study first (the primacy effect) as well as those things you study last (the recency effect).

How do you overcome the recency effect? ›

This is something that investors tend to forget. How to avoid the recency effect? A simple way of overcoming the recency effect is to keep a record in order to keep the big picture in mind. Whether it is stocks, mutual funds or employee evaluation, a log on the long-term performance is a practical approach.

Who gave recency effect? ›

One demonstration of the recency effect can be found in a 1962 paper by psychologist Bennet Murdock. Murdock investigated how the ordering of words in a list affects our ability to remember them (what is known as the serial position effect).

Which of the following best describes the recency effect quizlet? ›

Which of the following statements best explains the recency effect? It occurs because the last few items in a list may still be in working memory when they are recalled.

How do you test for primacy and recency effect? ›

Try reading it out to someone nearby, and see which words they remember the best. When the list is read out, there will be a tendency to recall the later words better, the recency effect. To test out the primacy effect, show someone the list of words, and then remove the list and ask them to recall the words.

How can primacy and recency effects be overcome? ›

Tips to get the most from recency and primacy:
  1. Teach and/or learn new material first.
  2. New information and closure are best presented during the prime-time periods.
  3. Practice (labs/activity) is appropriate for the down-time segment.
  4. Lessons divided into 20 minute segments are more productive than one continuous lesson (6)
17 Mar 2015

What is the opposite of recency bias? ›

In psychology, primacy bias (excessive focus on earliest events or facts) and recency bias (excessive focus on the most recent events or facts) are often considered together as primacy and recency bias.

What is a synonym for recency? ›

synonyms: recentness. type of: newness. the quality of being new; the opposite of oldness. a time immediately before the present. synonyms: recentness.

What is an example of the halo effect? ›

A common halo effect example is attractiveness, and the tendency to assign positive qualities to an attractive person. For example, you might see a physically beautiful person and assume they are generous, smart, or trustworthy.

How do you use recency in a sentence? ›

Table I shows prevalence by age, sex, and recency of the symptom. Due to the recency of the cancer, the insurance company would not give cover. The recency of a prospective customer's last mail-order purchase is a relatively good indicator of overall interest in mail-order offers.

How do you pronounce recency? ›

How To Say Recency - YouTube

What is the synonym of recently? ›

Synonyms. not long ago. newly. She was young at the time, and newly married. lately.

What are the 3 types of bias? ›

Three types of bias can be distinguished: information bias, selection bias, and confounding. These three types of bias and their potential solutions are discussed using various examples.

How the recency effect affects teams in the workplace? ›

If you rate an employee too high based on very recent efforts and ignore the inadequate work efforts prior to the recent behavior, the employee will feel they can get into a pattern of slacking early in the review period and then working harder later on.

What is recency effect in management? ›

Recency bias occurs when a reviewer can remember the work a person has done recently when compared to the work they did a while ago. This is an unconscious bias since part of the problem can be attributed to memory and the way the mind makes associations.

What is the example of law of primacy? ›

The law of primacy is another well-known principle. It's related to the phrase “you can't teach an old dog new tricks.” The idea is that relearning something in a new way is harder than learning it correctly initially. This is because the first way a person learns something makes a very strong impression on them.

Which is most important in forming impressions the primacy effect or the recency effect Why? ›

Under such circumstances recent, better remembered information receives more weight and a recency effect results. In contrast, when judges know from the beginning that impression formation is the goal, a primacy effect is more likely.

What is the primacy recency effect in education? ›

The primacy/recency effect says new information is most easily absorbed and retained at the beginning and end of a learning episode. Research suggests that these are the prime times for students to be presented with new content.

Does primacy affect long-term memory? ›

The ability to remember information from long-term memory is known as recall. Memory is often associated with the primacy effect in psychology. The primacy effect is a psychological phenomenon by which humans have an increased ability to recall the first items among a list of items.

What is primacy as a principle of learning? ›

- Law of Primacy: First impressions are strong impressions… think about how to make the first impression positive (enthusiasm, organization, appropriate feedback). - Law of Intensity: A sharp, clear, or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring one…

Is the primacy effect a theory? ›

Both the Primacy and Recency Effect make up a theory on the Serial Position Effect, which shows through many studies that people are more likely to remember the first and last parts of a list than the middle.

What is a primacy effect in terms of person perception? ›

A primacy effect occurs when the first information that is processed in a sequence of information units has a particularly pronounced influence on a person's subsequent judgments (e.g. Asch, 1946. Forming impressions of personality.

What are the three processes of memory? ›

The brain has three types of memory processes: sensory register, short-term memory, and long-term memory.

What do you mean by recency effect? ›

The recency effect is a cognitive bias in which those items, ideas, or arguments that came last are remembered more clearly than those that came first.

What is an example of the halo effect? ›

A common halo effect example is attractiveness, and the tendency to assign positive qualities to an attractive person. For example, you might see a physically beautiful person and assume they are generous, smart, or trustworthy.

What is the recency effect in speech? ›

Recency is the ability of an individual to recall the last, or most recent, piece of information memorized. This means that as you are memorizing, you are more likely to remember the end of your speech or whatever material you've worked on the most recently.

What is the long-term recency effect? ›

The recency effect in this task is termed the long-term recency effect, because according to dual-store models, the end-of-list distractor task displaces items from the postulated short-term store, thereby ensuring that all items are retrieved from long-term memory.

Who gave recency effect? ›

One demonstration of the recency effect can be found in a 1962 paper by psychologist Bennet Murdock. Murdock investigated how the ordering of words in a list affects our ability to remember them (what is known as the serial position effect).

Why does primacy and recency effect happen? ›

The primacy effect occurs because participants pay attention to the beginning information and ignore the information presented later. On the other hand, if participants are in a situation where they have to continuously pay attention to information, a recency effect may occur.

How do you overcome the recency effect? ›

This is something that investors tend to forget. How to avoid the recency effect? A simple way of overcoming the recency effect is to keep a record in order to keep the big picture in mind. Whether it is stocks, mutual funds or employee evaluation, a log on the long-term performance is a practical approach.

What is an example of the horn effect? ›

The horn effect is a cognitive process in which we immediately ascribe negative attitudes or behaviours to someone based on one aspect of their appearance or character. A common example of this is overweight people, who unfortunately are often stereotyped as being lazy, slovenly or irresponsible.

What is halo and horn effect? ›

The "halo" or "horn" effect is a form of rater bias which occurs when an employee is highly competent or incompetent in one area, and the supervisor rates the employee correspondingly high or low in all areas.

What causes someone to have a horn effect bias? ›

Your brain categorizes this information through the lens of your memories and experiences, which means it doesn't always provide an accurate picture of what you take in at any given moment. The horn effect, a type of cognitive bias, happens when you make a snap judgment about someone on the basis of one negative trait.

What is the primacy effect in memory? ›

The primacy effect is the tendency for individuals without neurological impairment to show enhanced memory for items presented at the beginning of a list relative to items presented in the middle of the list. At test, items presented at the beginning of a list are retrieved from long-term or secondary memory stores.

What is memory effect in psychology? ›

Conclusion: This study shows a "memory effect" when the same images are presented at a second viewing within a small interval period. This effect appears to occur mainly at low confidence levels.

What is primacy and recency in presentation? ›

The first thing that you say (primacy) and the last thing that you say (recency) are 2 parts of your speech that are very likely to be remembered by an audience. So make use of them and start strong and end strong.

Why do we have sensory memory? ›

Sensory memory is vital to helping you process and compute the world around you. Once you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste sensory information, your brain may either process or discard the sensations.

What is sensory memory psychology? ›

Sensory memory is a mental representation of how environmental events look, sound, feel, smell and taste. It includes a long-term component useful for such activities as recognizing a color or a familiar voice. However, most vivid details of sensory memory seem to fade quickly.

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