The Serial Position Effect

Memory is unreliable. How often do you forget something that you need to remember?

If you’re anything like me, your memory will fail you the moment you need to remember something. This is a common flaw that individuals face every day. Our memory comes pre-packaged as unreliable and faulty.

The neat thing about memory however, is that it can be trained. Much like muscles can be strengthened from workouts, memory can also be improved.

The serial position effect is one of many techniques you can utilize to help improve your memory.

The serial position effect is a phenomenon where individuals will recall items at the beginning and end of a list more readily than the items in the middle of a list.

So this means that if toilet paper was in the middle of your grocery list, and you ended up forgetting that list at home, then you might be in trouble.

There is a law in psychology known as Miller’s Law. It states that individuals, on average, are able to retain 7 +/- 2 items within their short term memory (STM).

STM and long term memory (LTM) play key roles in the serial position effect. This is due to two reasons: 1. Primacy effect, and 2. Recency effect.

Primacy effect occurs at the beginning of a list. During the beginning of a list, your STM is empty. This allows you to put more attention on salient stimuli. Due to the emphasis placed on your newly acquired stimuli, you will be more likely to remember it. It is suggested that because of this, the beginning stimuli is moved from your STM into your LTM if there is enough time to rehearse the stimuli.

Recency effect occurs at the end of a list. The stimuli that is presented at the end of a list is still fresh within your mind. Therefore, because it has not had time to deteriorate from your STM, you will find it easier to remember, regardless of whether or not your STM capacity is full.

See how well you can do when recalling a list of stimuli here.

Knowing what you know about the serial position effect, did you achieve a score higher than what the Miller law suggests you should have made? Lower?

Let me know in the comments.

Stay psyched

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