The Primacy effect manifests to increase persuasion if the message is simply presented first among competing messages. Candidates listed first on the ballot have an advantage, for instance. In the courtroom, the testimony that goes first is most likely to convince jurors. Therefore, if vegan advocates are ever in a position to place their message before others, they would be wise to do so. Placing vegan options at the top of a menu, for instance, might improve their popularity.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for occupying recent memory. The recency effect suggests that if a message is fresh in someone’s mind (and a counterargument is too far in the past or otherwise too forgotten to compete) it will be more likely to persuade.
So, should activists shoot for being first or being most recent? Experimental research supports that the primacy effect tends to trump the recency effect. One study on internet behavior found that participants were most likely to click links located near the top of the page, but they might also opt for the most recently viewed link posted at the bottom of a list. Subsequently, researchers suggest that activists would benefit by lumping the most important information at the beginning of a message while saving some critical material for the end to trigger the short-term memory of recipients.
For the Vegan Toolkit
- Present your argument first for more credibility
- Or, present your argument last to improve remembrance
- Try to combine the two
- Primacy effect is usually more powerful than recency effect
Asch, S. 1946. “Forming Impressions of Personality.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 41: 258-290.
Carney, D. and M. Banaji. 2012. “First is Best.” PLoS One 7 (6).
Miller, N. and D. Campbell. 1959. “Recency and Primacy in Persuasion as a Function of the Timing of Speeches and Measurements.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 59: 1-9.
Murphy, J., C. Hofacker, and R. Mizerski. 2006. “Primacy and Recency Effects on Clicking Behavior.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11 (2), article 7.
Stewart, D., B. Khan, and K. Moore. 2008. “Ballot Order Effect.” Vermont Legislative Research Shop.
This essay was originally published on The Examiner in 2012.
Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.