Serial Position Effect

Modified: 2020-04-07

One way to study learning is to present subjects with a series of items to remember. Those items could be words, nonsense syllables, numbers, or any other similar items. Many real-life situations mimic the serial task described above. For example, remembering the order of songs on a record, memorizing a poem, or studying a chapter in this course.

All such serial tasks have several characteristics in common. The words primacy and recency describe two of those characteristics. Subjects are much more likely to remember items at the beginning of such a list; that effect is called primacy. Similarly, subjects are also more likely to remember items at the end of a list, and that effect is called recency.

Of more interest is the serial-position effect. That effect describes the finding that subjects have a great deal of difficulty remembering items near the middle of serial lists. You may have noticed the serial position effect in action if you have tried some of the serial tasks listed in the paragraph above.

Use the list below to demonstrate serial learning. Memorize it and keep track of your own errors. Early on, you should find that items in the middle of the list are hardest to learn.









Back to Chapter 7 Lectures