It’s Monday, so you know what that means — another cognitive bias! This week, I thought I’d combine two because they’re essentially two sides of the same coin. They are: the primacy effect and the recency effect. Believe it or not, these biases are just what they sound like. The primacy effect is the idea that we overweight information we received ‘near the beginning,’ and the recency effect is the idea that we overweight information we received ‘more recently.’
These biases are usually studied in the context of memory and recall. That is, the primacy effect being that people tend to have a better likelihood of remembering information from the beginning and the recency effect being that people tend to have a better likelihood of remembering information they received more recently.
We can certainly see how this would affect our ability to make bias-free decisions. Let’s say that you’re shopping for a new television. You put in a few days worth of research. The biases we have just mentioned above tell us that we might be more likely to give undue weight to the information we found in the beginning (or the information we found most recently). While the purchase of a TV might not be an “important” decision, what if we were interviewing candidates for a job? We might be more likely to view the people in the beginning more favorably or the people towards the end more favorably. This is part of the reason companies use things like standardized questions during the interview as a way to institute some continuity from one interviewee to the next.
Ways for Avoiding the Primacy/Recency Effect(s)
How you avoid these two biases really depends on the context of the decision you’re making. For instance, if you want people to remember something, you probably don’t want to give them a long list (thereby invoking the possibility of one of these two biases to happen). There are some general ways to mitigate these biases, though.
1) Keep a record (write down the data)
One of the simplest ways that either of these biases can have an impact on a decision is when there isn’t a record of data. If you’re just making a decision based on what you remember, there will be an unnecessary weighting for the beginning or the end. As a result, keeping a record of the choices can make it easier to evaluate all choices objectively.
2) Standardized data
As I mentioned earlier in this post, it’s important that the data by which you’re evaluating a choice be standardized. As we looked at in number one, keeping data isn’t always enough. it’s important that the data be uniform across choices, so an evaluation can be made. In this way, it’s easier to look at earlier choices and later choices equally whereas if this weren’t instituted, there might be a slight bias towards the beginning or the end. This tip would work for situations similar to making a purchase (and gathering data), interviewing candidates, or something that can be analogized to either of these two.
If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series:
- Ignore Sunk Costs
- Loss Aversion and the Big Picture
- The Endowment Effect – Yours Isn’t Always Better
- Get a Second Opinion Before You Succumb to the Planning Fallacy
- Perspective and the Framing Effect
- The Confirmation Bias — What Do You Really Know
- Don’t Fall for the Gambler’s Fallacy
- Situations Dictate Behavior
- When 99% Confident Leads to Wrongness 40% of the Time
- He’s Not as Bad as it Seems and She’s Not as Good as it Seems