Web Design | 29th July 2019 By

What is the “Serial-position effect”? – The Psychology of Design (5/7)

The “serial-position effect” describes how items that are first and last in a list are more prone to be remembered than items in the middle.

The “Serial-position effect” was coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus. The first item is easier to retain due to the relatively small amount of effort expended in remembering the item by itself. This is in contrast to proceeding items (in the middle of a sequence) which must be rehearsed including all the other preceding information; inducing significant cognitive load and affecting recall. 

The last item on the list has better recall due to its storage in our working memory. This is the part of our short-term memory that processes conscious information. Our working memory holds temporary information and acts as a buffer for new information while it absorbs it into other memory systems.

Take advantage of the Serial position effect: 

If the user’s choice is to be taken long after exposure to the information (> 30 seconds), then put the most critical items first. If the choice is to be taken shortly following reading the list, then put the most critical item last on the list. 

E.g. on a sales pages think about putting the main benefit of your product first on the list, and your winning extras like “free shipping” last. This means if the users leave the page they are more likely to retain the principal benefit of your product.


The Serial-position effect example.


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