The Recency Effect

August 23, 2010 โ€” Your most recent experiences effect you the most. Reading this essay will effect you the most today but a week from now the effect will have largely worn off.

Experiences have a half-life. The effect decays over time. You might watch Almost Famous, run out to buy a drumset, start a band, and then a month later those drums could be gathering dust in your basement. You might read Shakespeare and start talking more lyrically for a week.

Newer experiences drown out old ones. You might be a seasoned Rubyist and then read an essay espousing Python and suddenly you become a Pythonista.

All genres of experiences exhibit the recency effect. Reading books, watching movies, listening to music, talking with friends, sitting in a lecture--all of these events can momentarily inspire us, influence our opinions and understanding of the world, and alter our behaviors.

Taking Advantage of the Recency Effect

If you believe in the recency effect you can see the potential benefit of superstitious behavior. For instance, I watched "The Greatest Game Ever Played", a movie about golf, and honest to god my game improved by 5 strokes the next day. A year later when I was a bit rusty, I watched it again and the effect was similar(though not as profound). When I want to write solid code, I'll read some quality code first for the recency effect.

If you want to do great work, set up an inspiring experience before you begin. It's like taking a vitamin for the mind.

Some More Examples

  • Settlers of Cataan can make you an astute businessman after a few games. You'll find yourself negotiating everything and saving/making money left and right.
  • Influence by Cialdini will give you a momentary force field against the tricks of pushy salespeople and also temporarily boost your own ability to get people to do what you want.
  • Watching Jersey Shore will temporarily make you feel much better about your life while at the same time altering your vocabulary with phrases like "You do you" and "GTL".

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