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Recency Effect

 

Explanations > Theories > Recency Effect

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

Given a list of items to remember, we will tend to remember the last few things more than those things in the middle. We also tend to assume that items at the end of the list are of greater importance or significance.

The recency effect has most effect in repeated persuasion messages when there is a delay between the messages.

Research

Miller and Campbell recorded proceedings from a trial with a combination of sequences of arguments for and against the plaintiff, sometimes with delays of a week between parts and the judgment that they sought from experimental participants.

The results in the table below show that when there was no delay between the first and second message, but then a week's delay before the judgment, a primacy effect occurred. When there was a delay between the first and second message, but no gap between the second message and the judgment, then a recency effect occurred. 

 

First message Delay after first message? Second message Delay after second message? Judgment
For plaintiff No Against plaintiff No Balanced
Against plaintiff No For plaintiff No Balanced
For plaintiff No Against plaintiff Yes For
Against plaintiff No For plaintiff Yes Against
For plaintiff Yes Against plaintiff No Against
Against plaintiff Yes For plaintiff No For
For plaintiff Yes Against plaintiff Yes Balanced
Against plaintiff Yes For plaintiff Yes Balanced

Example

What did you do in the last hour? What about the last day? Last week? Year?

So what?

Using it

If you want something to stand out in a person’s mind, use it at the end of a conversation, a written list, etc. Don’t let it get lost in the middle. Repeat the message after a while, still with the key items at the end.

Defending

Do not just pay attention to what other people have most recently said. 

See also

Availability Heuristic, Perceptual Salience, Primacy Effect, Von Restorff Effect, Focusing Effect, Gambler's Fallacy, The Hot Hand Phenomenon

 

References

Miller and Campbell (1959)

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