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Serial Position Effect definition


The Serial Position Effect (notably studied by Ebbinghaus, Murdock, Glanzer and Cunitz) refers to the finding that recall accuracy will vary as a result of where an item is positioned within a list. Items are more likely to be remembered if they are presented at the beginning (the primacy effect) or the end (the recency effect) of a list, relative to those items presented in the middle. We remember more easily the first few items because of the greater amount of cerebral processing devoted to them, and we remember more easily the last few items because they are still in our short-term memory when recall is needed. Items that benefit from neither of these effects (the middle items) are recalled most poorly.

For example, the Serial Position Effect might be experienced in everyday life when you go the supermarket after having only been given a verbal list of items to buy. In the time it takes to get there and then with all the distractions available as you wander the aisles, it’s unlikely you will remember all the required items: you will tend to remember the first few, as your brain was actively processing these as they were told to you, and the last ones you heard most recently before you left.

The Serial Position Effect has innumerous applications within advertising and marketing. Taking this principle in to account is important for TV advertising (during which commercial break or where within each break will your ad be best received and remembered?) and for online advertising (where should ads be placed to ensure maximum attention of internet users?). A study done in 2006 showed that links at the top and bottom of a website menu received the most clicks, so when marketing online it is best to place the most important links at the top and bottom of a page or marketing email.

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