Ever wondered why you remember some things and other things are quickly forgotten? Well, this could be due to the primacy effect.
The science behind the primacy effect is simple yet complicated to navigate. I’ve recognized the characteristics of this effect many times in my life. This curious state of mind works in a valuable way, helping us remember certain important facts.
Unfortunately, other seemingly important information is dulled or completely lost from memory, unless placed last. In the model of first, last, and middle, primacy is the information that’s remembered first and is more likely to be stored in the long-term memory. Here’s a bit more information.
The meaning of the primacy effect
The primary effect was established in 1940 by Solomon Asch. This was when the primary principle came into being. Basically, the primacy (remembering the beginning facts) and recency effect (remembering the last facts) are two strong characteristics of how our brain works.
For instance, if we make a grocery list, the first few items will be remembered much better and even stored within our long-term memory. The items in the middle of the list may be harder to recall, even harder than the last items (which are considered the recency effect examples.)
But to focus on primacy, the effects are seen easily in studying for exams as well. Again, the information first read will be stored faster and thus remembered quite well for the test. Questions involving these facts will be easy to answer correctly.
So, the primacy effect is a positive thing, right? Well, for the most part, but there are ways it can distort our own and the perception of others.
Let’s take a look at the flaws of the primacy effect.
1. First impressions
Everyone knows what first impressions are, but do they really understand the implications of this? Well, when you look at the primacy effect, you can see how there could be a negative take with the first time you meet someone, especially if things go all wrong.
If your first impression isn’t that great, it can frame how the other person views you. Remember, this first encounter with you is what they remember the most.., just as the last encounter will be.
In this situation, the primacy effect can greatly change how a person views another, even to the point of severing future contact altogether.
In a way, being late for your first day at a new job can be seen as a first impression, and really, it is. But, it also helps us look at how reputations are formed. The fact is, you may not ever be late again, but your reputation could already be spoiled, causing you to lose out on advancements in the workplace or even fall victim to termination.
Although the primacy effect helps us remember the first facts and commit them to long-term memory, we miss so many good things in the middle sometimes, especially where the true value of a person is concerned. It’s detrimental to us and others.
3. Emotional distortion
The primacy effect can influence our emotions as well. We often feel the first emotion much stronger, whether it’s happiness, paranoia, or anger, and we give little time for the emotion to deepen or change. Many rash decisions have been made due to focus on the primary emotions.
Also, as you know, primary emotions are the ones we remember for a while. They can change the way we see many things. It’s like an imprint.
Even though the thought process, as it deepens, is considered the “middle” and not the first thought, it often has some of the best rational thinking and analyzation. Our perception of many things has been changed due to this effect.
4. The formation of lists
Another way that the primacy effect can influence our perception is by their role in lists. As I stated before, the item at the top of the grocery list will not be easily forgotten, while the other various ingredients may be.
This is just one of the shortcomings of the primacy effect. It’s also the one that propelled this type of thinking, to begin with.
Another way that lists are affected is when there are various descriptions of a person’s personality or characteristics. For instance, if you say someone is moody, beautiful, and dependable, you will always remember that they are moody above all else.
Likewise, if the order was changed to “beautiful, dependable and moody”, you will think of that person as a beautiful person…and I would bet you would see the moody description more along the lines of having “depth of emotion”.
It’s strange how that works, isn’t it? And guess what? This example was the first known experiment in the primacy effect back in 1940.
So, is the primacy inherently good?
While the primacy effect can indeed distort your perception, it can also prove useful as well. It takes a great deal of maturity to understand how the primacy effect and the recency effect can prove useful.
In fact, the middle is where you find some of the best information and form some of the best connections with people and situations. You just have to be open-minded enough to see it.
So, even though we can appreciate the first things we remember, we should also learn how to change the order and read again. Revisit the list, consider the applicant, and wait to see how we feel a few hours after we’ve grown angry. The primacy effect isn’t bad, and how we see this is how we respond.
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