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Serial Position Effect

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serial position effect

Some of the strongest evidence for the multi-store model comes from serial position effect studies and studies of brain damaged patients.

Experiments show that when participants are presented with a list of words, they tend to remember the first few and last few words and are more likely to forget those in the middle of the list.

This is known as the serial position effect (see fig. above). The tendency to recall earlier words is called the primary effect; the tendency to recall the later words is called the recency effect.

Murdock (1962) asked participants to learn a list of words that varied in length from 10 to 30 words and free recall them. Each word was presented for one to two seconds. He found that words presented either early in the list or at the end were more often recalled, but the ones in the middle were more often forgotten.

Murdock suggested that words early in the list were put into long term memory (primacy effect) because the person has time to rehearse the word, and words from the end went into short term memory (recency effect). Words in the middle of the list had been there too long to be held in short term memory (STM) (due to displacement) and not long enough to be put into long term memory (LTM).

In a nutshell, when participants remember primary and recent information, it is thought that they are recalling information from two separate stores (STM and LTM).

The multi-store model is also supported by the H.M. case study who was unable to make new long-term memories but whose short-term memories was unaffected. This indicates that there are separate LTM and STM stores.


Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). "Chapter: Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes". In Spence, K. W., & Spence, J. T. The psychology of learning and motivation (Volume 2). New York: Academic Press. pp. 89–195.

Murdock, B. B. (1962). The serial position effect of free recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(5),482–488.

How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Serial Position Effect. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/primacy-recency.html

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