Serial Position Effect
The first and last items in a series tend to be recalled more
easily than other items (Deese & Kaufman, 1957). This concept
may be applied when determining the best order to present a list
of information or key points during coaching or instructing.
Interestingly, a similar phenomenon, a form of serial position
effect, had been studied by early kinesiologist, FE
Nipher in 1876.
Deese J and Kaufman RA (1957) Serial effects in recall
of unorganized and sequentially organized verbal material, J
Exp Psychol. Sept 54(3):180-7
FE Nipher, Assistant Professor of Physics in Washington
University (1876). Probability of error in writing a series of
numbers. American Journal of Science and Arts. 12(112), 79-80.
Anchoring, or focalism is a cognitive bias that explains the
tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information
when making decisions. A classic example is the initial price
of a used car is used as the standard for subsequent negotiations,
making the initial price seem more reasonable even if it was
higher than the fair market price of the car. Anchoring is very
difficult to avoid and has an effect when the anchor is known
to be incorrect (Strack & Mussweiler, 1997) and even when
the recipient knows they are being manipulated by an anchor.
Also see Cognitive Dissonance.
Anchoring can be used by exercise professionals,
nutritionist, or other wellness counselors using a Client
Centered Approach to set high expectations when proposing
terms when offering choices to their clients. Clients may be
willing to put more effort into a behavioral proposal or accept
a higher level of commitment, if more challenging behavioral
goals are proposed first, since having the client consider an
initially more challenging behavioral proposals will likely have
greater influence on establishing their expectations than subsequent
recommendations. This theory would suggest to present a reasonably
high standard first, based on the client's individual goals and
constraints, then if needed, work down by proposing a somewhat
less lofty behavioral goal until the client was confident they
could comply or adhere to a more reasonably manageable goal.
Strack F, & Mussweiler T. (1997). Explaining the enigmatic
anchoring effect: Mechanisms of selective accessibility. Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(3), 437-446.
Wilson TD, Houston CE, Etling KM, & Brekke N (1996).
A new look at anchoring effects: Basic anchoring and its antecedents.
Journal Of Experimental Psychology, 125(4), 387-402.
Remembered utility is determined largely by the peak intensity
of the pleasure or discomfort experienced during the episode,
and by the intensity of pleasure or discomfort when the episode
ended. Interestingly, the duration of the episode has almost
no effect on its remembered utility. Kahneman explains that people
make wrong choices between experiences to which they may be exposed,
because they are systematically wrong about their affective memories.
Kahneman, et al. (1993) had subjects submerge their hand under
painfully cold water under two conditions. They found that subjects
preferred 60 sec of 14ºC ice water followed by 30 sec of
15ºC ice water over 60 sec of 14ºC ice water alone.
These results seem counter intuitive since both conditions 14ºC
and 15ºC are unpleasant. Subjects appeared to prefer and
directly choose more pain over less pain in this case.
Similarly, patients who experienced more pain during a medical
procedure (colonoscopy or lithotripsy) paradoxically rated the
same medical procedure less painful with an additional phase
where the discomfort tapered off gradually, as opposed to dropping
off precipitously after reaching a peak (Redelmeier & Kahneman,
The memories of pain are largely affected by the peak intensity
of the pain, but are somewhat subdued if the final part of the
experience is tapered, even if this extends their experience.
Lengthy painful durations were not remembered as particularly
To reduce the clients memory of pain, lowering the peak intensity
of pain is more important than minimizing the duration of pain.
With the same goal in mind, gradual relief so intense pain does
not occur near the end would be more be tolerable than abrupt
relief, in retrospect to the client.
The same retrospective evaluations are applicable to pleasure.
People will recall having less enjoyment with the addition of
a milder pleasure at the end
of an experience. So it is recommended to only present the best
experience or reward, or to present the best only after the lesser
rewards or experiences. (Do, Rupert & Wolford, 2008)
Do AM, Rupert AV, Wolford G (2008). Evaluation of pleasure
experiences: The peak-end rule. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,
Kahneman D, Fredrickson DL, Schreiber CA, & Redelmeier
DA (1993). When more pain is preferred to less: Adding a better
end. Psychological Science, 4, 401-405.
Redelmeier DA, Kahneman D (1996). Patients' memories of
painful medical treatments: real-time and retrospective evaluations
of two minimally invasive procedures. Pain, 66, 3-8.