Recency Effect: What It Is And How It Affects Memory

Recency effect

Let’s think about a presentation we attended about 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 remember the initial information and the final information better. 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 attention and memory capacity it is higher at the beginning; declines in the middle and grows again 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 came at the beginning, we are then 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 in the list.

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

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Using lists and 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 of everyday life, which imply that we “remember” certain information. That is, it is a broader concept than the simple fact of “remembering the last items on a list” (although it also includes the latter).

Thus, following this principle, the things learned or heard most recently are remembered more and better. On the other hand, 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. That is, the less likely you will be to remember that information.

For example, if we ask a student about a topic the same afternoon that he has finished studying it, he will be much more likely to remember the topic and know how to explain it, than if we ask him 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 field

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

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


The phenomenon of the recency effect, together with the primacy effect also mentioned, have been interpreted following the multi-store 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 are read to us (for example 10) and that we must remember, when we ask ourselves about it, it happens that:

1. Primacy effect

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 this includes a few seconds from when we heard the words until we were asked about them).


In some pathological populations it has been found that the recency effect (in serial learning tasks) is more preponderant than the primacy effect. These populations have been people with amnesias of various etiologies and in people with dementia Alzheimer type.

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