Recency Effect: What Is It And How Does It Affect Memory

A psychological phenomenon that is expressed in our way of remembering memories.

Recency effect

Consider a presentation we went to on psychology, for example. When you leave the presentation, what do you think you will remember best, the information at the beginning, the middle or the end?

Well, curiously, and if the presentation is not very long, you will better remember the initial information and the final information. In this article we will talk about this last case, the so-called recency effect.

Recency effect: what is it?

As we saw in the example, when we are exposed to a certain amount of information, our capacity for attention and recall is higher at the beginning; it decays in the middle and grows back at the end.

The recency effect occurs when the information provided at the end is the one we remember best. This refers to short-term memory. However, when the information that is best remembered is the one that was at the beginning, then we are talking about the primacy effect.

Word lists

But the recency effect appears in other paradigms or situations, and, in fact, when short-term memory began to be studied, experiments were used based on the serial learning technique (for example, remembering lists of words). Through this test, it was found that the probability of remembering an item varied depending on its position on the list.

The recency effect refers to the fact that the last items on the list are better remembered compared to the initial position items (that is, the first items heard or read in the test; the so-called primacy effect).

Using lists and using the free recall technique (where the subject is asked what words he remembers), the recency effect was discovered.

Daily life

However, and as we have seen at the beginning of the article, the recency effect can be extrapolated to other situations in everyday life, which imply that we “remember” certain information. In other words, it is a broader concept than the simple act of “remembering the last items on a list” (although it also includes the latter).

Thus, following this principle, things learned or heard more recently are remembered more and better. On the contrary, the more time passes between the information heard (or seen, read, etc.), and the evocation of said information (asking the subject to evoke it), the more difficult it will be for it to occur. In other words, the less likely it is that you will remember such information.

For example, if we ask a student about a topic the same afternoon that they finished studying it, they will be much more likely to remember the topic and know how to explain it, than if we ask them the next morning or the following afternoon.

Another example is that it is easier to remember a phone number dialed a few minutes ago than a number we dialed the day before. These are examples that illustrate the recency effect.

Academic scope

In this way, we see how the last information we acquire is generally more memorable for us, we remember it better. On the other hand, it is known that reviewing the information frequently, as well as using summaries, helps to fix the material or information in the mind, and therefore to more easily evoke the information when asked (to remember better) .

We can apply the recency effect in the academic and learning environment ; for example, determining the temporal sequence of the classes, lessons or subjects to be taught, according to the importance within the school year.

Research

The phenomenon of the recency effect, together with the primacy effect also discussed, have been interpreted following the multistore model of Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968). According to this model, these effects reflect the operations of two independent memory systems: short-term memory (in the case of the recency effect) and long-term memory (primacy effect).

This happens because, if we think of a list of “X” words that read to us (for example 10) and that we must remember, when asking about it, it happens that:

1. Effect of primacy

We remember the first words on the list better (this is due to long-term memory, because several seconds, even minutes, have already passed since we heard the words).

2. Recency effect

We also remember the last words on the list better (due to short-term memory, since it includes a few seconds from when the words were heard until we were asked about them).

Pathologies

In some pathological populations, the recency effect (in serial learning tasks) has been found to be more preponderant than the primacy effect. These populations have been people with amnesias of various etiologies and in people with Alzheimer’s dementia.

Bibliographic references:

  • Garzon, A. and Seoane J. (1982). Memory from information processing.
  • De Vega, M. (1990). Introduction to cognitive psychology. Psychology Alliance. Madrid.
  • Martín, ME et al. (2013). Relevance of the serial position effect in the differential diagnosis between mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s type dementia, and normal aging. ScienceDirect, Neurology, 28 (4), 219-225.

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