Primary & Recency Theories In A Speech

Primacy theory suggests listeners will remember the first part of a speech more easily.

Memorization is an important mental task in daily life, in business and in academia. Whether committing to memory lists of groceries, listening to a speech or remembering names of colleagues, memorizing items in a series has numerous applications. Psychologists recognize the importance of “primacy” and “recency” in remembering. In colloquial terms, information that comes first and information that comes last is most memorable, while the message in the middle is more easily forgotten. This is also known as the “serial position effect.”


The heightened recall for items at the beginning of a speech (or a list or some other unit of information) is known as primacy. Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) attributed the primacy effect to the elevated attention and rehearsal directed at the beginning of a speech or list. Such effort helps transfer the information to long-term memory, where the listener can recall it. If you represented the serial position effect as a U-curve, the primacy effect would be the left part of the curve.


The recency effect refers to the recall of information at the end of a speech. Atkinson and Shiffrin theorized that recency signified “output from what they referred to as primary memory in the form of a short-term memory buffer,” according to research published by Middle Tennessee University. Because the most recently stated information occupies a position in short-term memory, the listener remembers it more easily. On the same curve, its position would lie on the right, upward-inclined part of the U.

Middle Position

The middle position, between primacy and recency, is, according to the theory, the easiest to forget. Information communicated here escapes both long and short-term memory. Psychologists would term its memorability, in contrast, as “equal recall.” In a speech, the middle portion, lacking both a captivating introduction and a culminating conclusion, would be, according to this theory, the least memorable.

Short-Term Memory

The theory (particularly the recency theory) depends on the role of short-term memory. According to psychologists Waugh and Norman, listeners process information sensorily before storing it as short-term memory. From short-term memory, it can enter long-term memory for longer recall. Delaying recall wipes out the recency effect, according to the University of Indiana.