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Primacy Effect

 

Explanations > Theories > Primacy Effect

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

 

Description

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

The primacy effect has most effect during repeated message when there is little or no delay between the messages.

One reason that the Primacy effect works is that the listener is more likely to start off paying attention, then drifting off when the subject gets boring or the listener is internally processing data you have given them. The limitations of memory also have an effect, and we can miss middle items as we continue to rehearse and process the initial items.

Research

Solomon Asch (1946) asked some people about a person described as envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent. He then asked other people about a person described as intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn and envious. The second group rated the person more highly than the first group. He also found that the second and third items on the list had reduced primacy effects.

Example

On TV game shows where people can win everything in a list of items they see, they usually at least remember the first few items.

So what?

Usage

If you want something to stand out in a person’s mind, use it at the beginning of a conversation, a written list, etc. Don’t let it get lost in the middle. Repeat the message consecutively several times to embed it in their minds.

Defending

When you choose something, do not just choose it because you remember it most clearly.

See also

Availability Heuristic, Recency Effect, Von Restorff Effect

 

References

Asch (1946) , Rosnow (1966), Rosnow and Robinson (1967), Furnam (1986)

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