Social Communication: Quick Tip

Using the Primacy and Recency Effects To Your Advantage

What Are the Primary and Recency Effects?

If people are presented with a list containing lots of items and asked to recall as many items as they can remember, they typically do best at recalling items that were at the beginning or end of the list (as opposed to in the middle of the list).

Better recall of info presented first = Primacy Effect

Better recall of info present last = Recency Effect

How Might This Be Relevant For Social Communcation?

Try to grease the social wheels at the beginnings and ends of your communication.


– When you greet someone for a meeting, pay attention to doing it warmly. Use your speech, body posture, voice tone, and facial expressions to communicate warmth and at least mild enthusiasm/energy.

– A little trick university lecturers use is saying “That’s a great question” when someone asks a question. This is a little trick because it boosts the student but it also gives a few extra seconds for thinking how to answer!

– I often (but not always) start emails with “Thanks for your email” and end emails with something like “Will look forward to meeting you.”

– When I write a list of examples, I (sometimes) try to put the strongest examples – the ones I want people to remember the most- at the beginning of the list. I also make sure the example at the end of the list is a strong example.

– Use sandwich feedback when giving feedback (positive, something to work on, positive). Priming a sense of positive acceptance usually helps people constructively hear the ‘something to work on’ message.

– For couples, when you part in the mornings and reunite in the evenings, create some moments with positive tone (e.g., a goodbye/hello hug, or telling your partner about something that went right in your day before you tell them about anything that went wrong)

Try to take advantage of primacy and recency effects in your face to face communications, phone calls, and emails.

If you’re not naturally good socially (there isn’t any shame in it!), a few simple tips and a little bit of effort can go a long way to enhancing your social communication. A belief you can get better at it is important, or else you’re not likely to bother trying (This is called a growth/fluid mindset vs. a fixed mindset in which you believe something is unchangeable).

Hit me up on Facebook if you have any primacy/recency effect tips of your own. You’ll need to “like” the page in order to get the option to leave a comment. Or, Tweet me.