Brain Bulletin #81 - The Primacy Effect

in Brain Bulletin

Why are some people listened to more than others?

Why do some people give such a poor impression?

"First impressions are the most lasting." ~ Irish Proverb

One of the most important things I have learned about the brain is the Primacy Effect.The Primacy Effect is the psychological term for the very first impression you make, and other people make on you.

Research shows how quickly brains make initial formative judgments and, once made, how difficult they are to change. Most of us don't give this much thought, but where brains are concerned, you are what you are seen to be. A poor Primacy Effect can be disastrous to you, your life, and your career. The opposite is also true. The importance of this would be difficult to overstate.

Here is an example of how quick, powerful, and lasting the Primacy Effect is:

Two Harvard psychologists (Ambady and Rosenthal) did a particularly illuminating experiment. They were studying what makes teachers effective. Of particular interest was non-verbal cues, body language, and such.

A group was shown a mere ten second video of a teacher teaching. No sound. No students visible. Just the teacher. Then the group was asked to rate the teacher on fifteen qualities. A second group was shown an even shorter five second clip, and a third group a two second clip. The ratings of the three groups were identical!

Here's the kicker:

These ratings were then compared to ratings made by the students of the same teacher after a whole semester of classes. The ratings were the same!

Complete strangers' opinions of a teacher based on a silent, two second video clip were the same as those who sat through a whole semester of classes.

It looks like we've got about two seconds to get it right. Only rarely does anything happen after the Primacy Effect to get brains to revise first impressions.

The lesson here is to be mindful of our Primacy Effect, and to work to make it stronger.

On a recent speaking trip to Europe I was chatting with my friend Poll Moussoulides about how important the Primacy Effect is in our work as professional speakers. Poll is a former actor and one of Europe's most sought after Vocal Communication Coaches and Personal Performance Experts (

Poll works with actors, TV personalities, leaders, speakers, and others. I've asked him to comment here on the Primacy Effect:

"Smart Phones vs Smart People

Last year I read research which revealed that smart phones are now outselling desk top computers and more than 57% of people in Japan are reading their emails only on their iPhone, Blackberry or Galaxy. The statistics showed that USA, Canada and Europe are not far behind and very quickly heading the same way.

As if there wasn't enough pressure for us all to be competent public speakers, this research dramatically raises the stakes when it comes to how we use our brain, body and voice in our communications. It is now more essential than ever that we get it right and connect within diminishing windows of opportunity.

The good news is that the research in neuroscience, positive psychology and emotional intelligence is more than matching the advances in digital technology. This means that we already have the information and resources to engage successfully with our contemporary audiences. We already have the insights as to how this decade's teenager and adult will process and respond to our messages.

When I am hired to work with clients from the commercial, education and governance sectors, I spend a lot of time on the powerful effects of Primacy and Recency. With my background in Theater, Film and Television, it has always been clear that a good start and a good finish is essential for creating a lasting impact. However, with the excellent research in neuroscience, we now have the ability to influence in which part of our audience's brain we would like our message to be stored - short term memory or long term memory. First impressions are most likely to last, and final impressions are most likely to generate behavioural responses in the present or near future. (Now you know why some TV commercials are more successful than others!)

As a Voice and Personal Performance Specialists, it is always a pleasure to combine skills with Terry, and an absolute delight to acknowledge the huge improvements that are possible for our clients when maximising the greatest technology on the planet - themselves!

When the brain, body and voice come together to deliver memorable messages, all departments in the organisation are happy - Marketing, Human Resources, Senior Executives and of course our 'bottom-line' friends in Finance!

One Mind, one Body, one Voice. That's all we get to last a lifetime. Make them work together, and together they will work for you." (end)

Poll Moussoulides

Poll and I will be co-presenting "The Smart, Savvy Leader" in Dublin, Ireland on August 2, 2012. You are invited. Here is the link:

Final thought: Machiavelli once said, "Everyone sees what you appear to be: few experience what you really are." Why not ask a couple of close friends for some honest feedback on your Primacy Effect? Hey, we're all a work in progress.

Congratulations on learning something about your brain today. The Brain Bulletin is committed to help to do just that. If you missed any Brain Bulletins you can find them in the Brain Bulletin Archive: Brain Bulletin Archive

If you missed my live interview with Derrick Sweet of the Professional Speaker's Federation, here is the link: 

Learning to Speak with the Brain in Mind  

Something great and ongoing for your brain:

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Twitter is a great way to learn and fuel your brain. I just posted an interesting article on why you are not nearly as good at paying attention as you think you are (something I have been telling people in my live presentations for years).

I will be posting, or tweeting as it's called, regularly about the brain. What I'm reading, watching, thinking, doing....all as it relates to your brain. Twitter restricts tweets to 140 characters, so it is always quick and to the point. No time wasting!

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I've had a fun month. Lots of family time, writing, cycling, and yard work. I did lots of speaking, too. I keynoted the B.C. Home School Conference and B.C. Fire Training Officers Conference, presented at the Vancouver and Calgary CEO Forums, B.C. Hydro, DTAC, Simon Fraser University, Sentinel Secondary, District of North Vancouver, and best of all...seniors at Thornebridge Gardens. I love speaking to seniors.

Next month: Lots of public seminars, and then I'm off to speak in Dublin.

My favorite book this month was "What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should do the Opposite" by David DiSalvo. How the mental shortcuts our brains take don't always serve us well. Lots of good brain-based advice.