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The Power of the Recency Effect

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

If you are in the market to purchase a new car, and have your eye on a certain model or color, have you ever noticed that you suddenly see that car everywhere?

Recently, I purchased a limited-distribution, specialized running shoe. I was excited since I am – in marketing terminology – an “early adopter” and very few stores carried this particular shoe brand. However, as soon as I started wearing my new sneakers, I suddenly spotted people racing through the airport in them, neighbors walking down the street in them, and even some of my closest friends sporting them!

The reason behind this lies in the Recency Effect. The effect is defined as a tendency to remember the most recently presented information best. Psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus discovered this effect while doing memory experiments. It is not that the people in the airport just started wearing those shoes or that my friends just purchased them this week; it is the fact that now that I was paying attention to what shoes to purchase, I saw them where they may have always been.

So, how does this recency effect translate from running shoes to the work place? Well, for one, the Recency Effect inevitably comes into play when you receive your annual performance review from your supervisor. The review should cover your entire year of performance, but – more often than not – this is not the case. Unless you have a wonderful supervisor who kept monthly notes of your successes and challenges, your annual review was likely most heavily weighted based on your most recent events.

What can you do to counteract this innate psychological bias? Firstly, don’t be the manager that only reviews the most recent work of your employee. Further, don’t expect the person you met at a business lunch to remember your name or product unless you say it again at the end. And finally, make sure that your story has a great ending or it will not be remembered. Finish strong, re-state what you want others to remember, and don’t let the last book you have read or the last news report you heard have a disproportionate weight on what you really think!

Just because it is the latest does not necessarily mean it is the greatest!

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