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The Serial Position Effect on Word Recall

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The serial position effect has been studied extensively for many years. Researchers have designed a variety of different studies in order to analyze and explain both, the primacy and the recency effect. The primacy effect is the tendency for the first items presented in a series of words to be recalled more easily, or to be more influential than those presented at the end of the list. On the other end, there is also the recency effect. The recency effect is the tendency to recall the items located at the end of the list. Many studies have been designed to analyze how the primacy effect works and its accuracy. For instance, research compared the primacy and the recency effect (Jahnke, 1965). Forty-eight college students read lists of 6, 10, and 15 English words in a counterbalanced order. Twenty-four of the students were given instructions for the immediate serial recall of the list; while the other half of students were not aware that they would need to recall words from a list. Both groups received a total of 12 different lists. The words were read at a rate of one word per sec without any emphasis on specific word. In addition to that, the participants’ responses were recorded in an interval of 30 seconds. Results showed that the recency effect is stronger for free serial recall and for a longer interval than primacy effect (Jahnke, 1965). When instructions were given for a serial recall, primacy effects were stronger and recency effect weaker than when instructions were given for free recall. As the length of lists increased, the recency effect became stronger and more accurate.

Murdock (1962) conducted another experiment in order to analyze free recall. Six groups of participants had different combinations of list lengths...

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.... Serial Position Effect for Repeated Free Recall: Negative Recency or Positive Primacy? Journal of Experimental Psychology, 96(1), 10-16. doi:10.1037/h0033479

Huan, I-N., Tomasini, J., & Nikl, L. (1977). The primacy and recency effects in successive single-trial immediate free recall. The Journal of General Psychology, 97(2), 157-165. doi:10.1080/00221309.1977.9920834

Jahnke, John (1965). Primacy and recency effects in serial-position curves of immediate recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70(1), 130-133. doi:10.1037/h0022013

Murdock Bennet B., Jr. (1962). The serial position effect of free recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(5), 482-488. doi: 10.1037/h0045106

Ward, Geoff (2002). A Recency-based account of the list length effect in free recall. Memory & Cognition, 30(6), 885-892. doi:10.3758/BF03195774