Primacy and Recency Effects: The Secret Weapons of Opening Statements

The primacy and recency effects are arguably the most misinterpreted psychological constructs in litigation. Most trial attorneys simply understand them as “jurors most remember the first and last things you say to them.” However, it is not that simple. By definition, true primacy and recency effects occur when memory accuracy varies as a function of an item’s position within a list of words in a controlled research setting. It is impossible to replicate these memory effects in the courtroom because the information presented in the real world, in natural settings, is perceived by the brain and encoded into memory very differently than it is in a laboratory setting. It is important for trial attorneys to understand what primacy and recency effects really are and how they can be used as potent weapons in their opening statement.