Serial position effect: what is this psychological phenomenon?

People tend to remember the first and last item on a list better when they ask us to read it or listen to it to say it later.

This phenomenon is known as the serial position effect and is related to the way we encode and store our memories in short and long term memory.

In this article, we explain what the serial position effect is, what the primacy effect and the recency effect are, and what the theoretical model is based on.

    What is the effect of the serial position?

    The serial position effect occurs when we try to remember the items in a list and the items at the beginning and end are remembered better than the items in the middle. This phenomenon was originally studied by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist and pioneer in using the experimental method to study how human memory works.

    The tendency to remember the first items in a list better is called the primacy effect., And most likely to remember the last items, review effect. If this probability is plotted, we obtain a U-shaped curve which represents the precision with which memories vary according to the position of the elements in a list.

    This phenomenon is based on an experiment in which a subject is first read a list with a number of items (unrelated to each other and greater than seven) and asked to listen carefully; and second, you are asked to write the list items that you remember in any order (free memory). The result generally corroborates the serial position effect, as well as the primacy and recency effects that we explain below.

    When the elements are visual stimuli, those presented at the beginning exert a greater influence; not only do they remember better, but they also interfere with the memory of later elements. In the case of auditory stimuli, these are the final elements of those which exert the greatest influence; however, if several separate information presentations are made on time and the subject has to make a decision soon after the last presentation, the review effect usually has more influence on the decision.

    The serial position effect also generates a general selection preference known as a control effect.: We are more likely to select the first and last items in a list than the middle items (for example, as with the order of candidates in a ballot).

    The effect of primacy

    The primacy effect, as we saw earlier, occurs when we are presented with a list of multiple items, and then by listing the articles, we better remember those at the beginning. This phenomenon occurs because the initial items are better stored in our long-term memory (MLP) than the last items. In fact, in lists where items are presented quickly, the primacy effect is weaker because we have less time to store them in the MLP.

    The evidence that the information that appears first is more likely to be remembered later can also be explained by the fact that there is more time because these first elements are repeated more often than others, and that it is therefore more likely that there is information from short term memory to MLP.

    The primacy effect also affects us when it comes to judging people. In studies conducted by psychologist Solomon Asch, a list of words has been listed in a different order in order to describe another person’s character. When positive adjectives were placed at the beginning (eg, “smart, hardworking, selfish and stubborn”), participants tended to judge the other person positively.

    However, the phenomenon of primacy over how we judge others and how they generate first impressions can also be related to attention span and the fact that when we first meet someone, we are usually alert. , and the first memory always tends to have an emotional tinge, which facilitates its long-term consolidation (we tend to remember better experiences that have a greater emotional charge).

    The review effect

    The review effect occurs when we remember the last items in a list better.. Indeed, when we are asked to refer to this list, the last elements still remain in our working memory and are therefore more available and we can access them more quickly.

    This phenomenon is not affected by the speed at which items are presented, but by the passage of time and the exposure of additional information. For example, the review effect wears off when the subject is forced to think about something else 30 seconds after presenting the last item on the list. This is something that does not happen with the primacy effect, because in this case the information has already been stored in long term memory, which does not happen with the revision phenomenon.

    The temporal context in which stimuli or items in a list are presented could also be related to the occurrence of the review effect. This context could serve as a signal for the subject to retrieve the stored information, which would explain why they are more likely to recall the most recent items that were processed in a different time context (previously listed).

    On the other hand, this effect disappears or is appreciably reduced when an interference task is introduced, in which the working memory intervenes. Therefore, distracting stimuli (if they exceed 15 to 30 seconds) can completely reverse this effect. In addition, if the recall occurs immediately after the submission of the last article, the revision phenomenon is constant, regardless of the duration of the list or the rate of submission of articles.

    Atkinson and Shiffrin’s memory model

    The effects of recency and primacy were interpreted based on the Atkinson and Shiffrin multi-storage memory model.. This theoretical model postulates that such effects mirror the operations of two independent memory systems, which include short-term memory (or working memory) and long-term memory, as well as other sensory memory.

    Short-term memory storage lasts less than 30 seconds, unless special attention is paid to the information contained and reprocessed (eg by repetition). George A. Miller studied this type of memory by concluding that during this period we can learn seven pieces of information (plus or minus two). However, this data has been questioned and is believed to vary depending on conditions.

    Regarding long-term memory, the Atkinson and Shiffrin model postulates that it is a storehouse to which information from short-term memory is transferred, provided it is processed sufficiently. quickly. According to the authors, this warehouse has limited capacity and could last a lifetime. This would mean that we will keep the capacity to store new information relatively intact.

    Finally, with regard to sensory memory, the model emphasizes that this store is responsible for retaining information that does not filter our attention and is not processed properly. There are two types: the iconic or the visual, which lasts about 500 milliseconds; and echo or auditory, lasting three to four seconds.

    However, although Atkinson and Shiffrin’s memory model is still useful in explaining certain phenomena, such as the serial position effect, currently, other theoretical models are also treated which complement and extend the multi-warehouse model, Such as treatment models or connectionist models.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Anderson, NH (1965). Primacy effects on the formation of personality impressions using a generalized order effect paradigm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2 (1), 1.

    • Glenberg, AM and Ramos, À. F. (1991). Superior memory of initial elements in visual mode: an explanation based on recovery. Cognitive, 3 (1), 123-141.

    • Murdock Jr, BB (1962). The serial positioning effect of free recovery. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64 (5), 482.

    Leave a Comment