Post No.: 0205
Learning could be said to be the acquisition and containment of information, whilst memory could be said to be the ability to retain and make use of information.
Extending on Post No.: 0143, we have sensory memories (such as fleeting ‘echoic’ sounds, ‘haptic’ touches or ‘iconic’ images e.g. seeing the trail of a tracer bullet when one is shot at night), short-term memories (which are short in duration e.g. remembering a new person’s name), working memories (which are again short in duration but involve the use, manipulation or organisation of such stored information e.g. working out the sum of three numbers in your head), intermediate-term memories (which are short-mid in duration e.g. remembering your line of thought a few minutes ago), and long-term memories (which are long in duration e.g. the recall of a past experience many years ago).
Long-term memories can be declarative (episodic (remembering events) or semantic (knowing things) – things we can consciously or explicitly express that we can remember and recall e.g. facts) and non-declarative (procedural skills and habits, priming, classical conditioning, non-associative learning – things that are subconscious or unconscious and implicit but in our memory e.g. skills).
Episodic (or flashbulb or autobiographical) memories are our remembering of specific experiences and salient events (e.g. being at a concert and its time, place and fluffy emotional affect on us). Semantic memories are our knowledge independent of personal experiences (e.g. facts, meanings and concepts that we know but cannot recall where and when they first originated for us). If we experience an episodic event frequently enough then semantic memories may form out of them, where the personal context is eventually forgotten and the memories now stand alone as simple knowledge (e.g. we once first learned about the alphabet but most of us cannot now remember exactly when, where and how we acquired this knowledge, yet we can still remember the alphabet itself, having used it every day since). Semantic knowledge can therefore sometimes be dangerous – if we’re continuously exposed to a belief for a long time, we can forget where it first originated from in order to go back and question its source and veracity.
The ‘recency effect’ is when we tend to most easily recall the latest things we saw, read or heard in a sequence of information, such as a shopping list. The next things we tend to most easily recall are the earliest things in a sequence and this is the ‘primacy effect’. This means that items in the middle of a sequence are more likely to be forgotten first. This is why you should put your best work in the front and back of your portfolio to maximise its impact, or why it’s best to prioritise the beginning and end of an experience when trying to make an experience overall good and memorable. (The recency and primacy effects are often combined to be known as the ‘serial-position effect’.) The ‘peak-end rule’ is when we most easily remember the last event and the most salient event in a sequence of events. But evaluations of past events are often also coloured by our feelings at the time of evaluation (e.g. you were totally happy during the date, but now you know the person was a cheat so now you don’t have happy memories of that date anymore – you might even start to ‘remember’ clues that you should’ve paid attention to that revealed that the person would one day cheat on you).
Related to the recency effect – the last ‘straw’ that ‘breaks a camel’s back’ tends to be remembered and blamed for a failure but really all those ‘straws’ equally contributed and added up to the ‘total weight upon the camel’ to cause its ‘back to break’, and vice-versa for successes and credits. For example, if a team just narrowly misses out on a league title, fans tend to regret more a match that was lost nearer the end of the season than a match that was lost near the beginning of the season (until maybe much time has passed and they can see the broader frame of the entire season in hindsight). People also tend to be blamed for their behaviours as adults more than how they were raised as children by their parents and the surrounding culture and so forth, even though this upbringing contributed something to who they eventually became as adults. A spouse may blame her/his partner for making her/him blow out in anger but really her/his anger was actually brewing throughout her/his stressful day at work!
So possibly because of the visibility and the recency effect, or simply because of a lack of understanding of what’s involved behind the scenes of many systems, projects or processes – people tend to intuitively place more blame on the end of the chain for any errors, such as the pilots or drivers, the goalkeeper, the speakers in a hi-fi system rather than the amplifier, or even the mere messengers of bad news, even though all parts of a chain or system contribute to determine what ultimately comes out at the end i.e. typically it’s actually **** in, **** out!
Now people with dementia normally experience impairment with their short-term memories first (such as remembering what they had just recently said a few seconds ago), whilst their long-term memories (such as salient childhood memories) will only start to fade as their condition worsens (amnesia). But note that dementia-related diseases don’t concern the recency or primacy effects but brain disease and deterioration. However in general, long-term memories – if and once formed because they are salient and/or constantly repeated/rehearsed – are more robust in duration than short-term memories.
Going back to sequences of information – although the recency effect means that the last items or minutes we experience will be most easily remembered, the first few minutes are still critical for building interest, which is to a degree related to the primacy effect. First impressions matter to people otherwise they’ll just stop and go somewhere else more interesting. Things can flourish or die based on these first moments. These first moments can even, rightly or wrongly, bias a person’s subsequent expectations (e.g. if they enjoyed the first few minutes of a movie then they might give it the benefit of the doubt during a boring subsequent moment, and vice-versa).
The ‘irrational primacy effect’ also means that people tend to trust and side with the information or view that they had learnt first in life or the first thing they had heard in a series i.e. people tend to settle on a view way before they’ve sufficiently heard from all sides. Once a belief sets in, it’s hard to shift it or even question that it might be wrong. Confirmation bias then means that the first view one learns about or settles on tends to become ever more reinforced over time, even if this view was either plain incorrect in the first place or has been disproved since. This irrational primacy effect is arguably similar to the anchoring effect with numbers – we tend to gravitate our estimates around the first number we see/hear when we don’t know what the correct answer is.
Unless we have specific preconceptions, we imagine a hypothesis as true before we decide whether or not to reject this perception of the state of the world. In other words, we are biased to confirm the truth status of what we already know and believe in. It therefore helps to get your point across first if possible if the audience is initially neutral. Regarding complex issues for which a group has not had much time to think about, the first to give their opinion can set the tone and perspective upon which all following opinions are anchored upon. Confirmation biases can then set in, further reinforcing the initial stance.
So if the audience is undecided then put your idea forward first to take advantage of the irrational primacy effect. Or if they are decided then present your idea last to take advantage of the recency effect.
Sneaky tactics huh?