Primacy and Recency

Arranging to Persuade:  Primacy and Recency
Katherine Bertolucci

IsisInformation Services

April 11, 2011

We have been reviewing B. J. Fogg’s 7 principles of persuasive technology.  This month we’ll look at
two he missed – primacy and recency, first and last.

We all know the importance of first place or primacy.  Back in the days of print Yellow Pages,
businesses named themselves to be at the front of the list:  AAA Acme Automotive.  The digital transition did not diminish the importance of first place.  Now we game the algorithm to be on the first page of search results.

There are many ways to game first place, even with something as rigid as alphabetical
order.  I learned that on an early classification project with alphanumeric call numbers.
Our tools were my first computer and floppy disks.  The computer tech told us to use as little
space as possible, so I kept the first element of the call numbers to three letters of abbreviation.  My client was prominent professionally and participated in many associations and their
conferences, so that would be one of my categories.  In fact, it was my beginning category since
it started with an A.  What’s the obvious three letter abbreviation for associations?
That’s right.  And there it was at the top of my category list.

I didn’t want users to laugh every time they interacted with the classification system, so I
changed the name of the category.  These were professional associations.  I changed an ASS to a PRO.  Not only did this move the category to a tame place in the middle, but it built a correlation
when someone saw the call number on the book.

Of course, they didn’t dwell on the call number, but perhaps they got a subliminal
positive reinforcement for using materials from a professional association.

Primacy is what  it is you first and may determine your continued interaction with the material.  It can go either way.  A positive first impression may encourage further use.  A negative first impression may send users to another site.

Recency determines what you remember because it is what you see last.  We tend to be interested in the most recent.  Think about a conversation.  It’s usually the last point that receives the
next comment.  You have probably encountered this idea before.  In high school writing class, we learned to put the most important point first, the second most important point last, and the rest hidden in the middle.

Recency can be tricky.  In a long list, last place is just last.  In that case, the perception
may be that last is the least important.  So use recency with care.  In situations where there is something to remember, make it a positive memory.