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Video: Better On-Screen Content with the Serial Position Effect

Author: Bill Gerba on 2013-07-31 11:57:52

It's been a while since we last delved into the subject of making great digital signage content. Despite that, I still routinely get emails, calls and messages about information posted in articles and blog posts from years ago. Since I've found that this kind of information often comes across more effectively in person (for example, during live presentations and seminars), I thought it might be fun to start converting some of our findings and best practices into a series of short, bite-sized videos. We've posted the first of what will hopefully be many today, starting way back at the beginning, with the serial position effect. This is my first foray into making YouTube videos (as will become apparent if you decide to watch it), so please, be kind ;)

The Serial Position Effect

If you're reading this article in a web browser, the video should appear below. If you don't see it, simply click this link to watch the video.

Here's a transcript of the video

Whether you use digital signage to advertise, educate or inform, the content on your screens needs to connect with your viewers and deliver a clean, clear message. But as critical as content is to making a digital signage project a success, many still struggle to produce attractive, efficient segments to show on their screens.

Fortunately, making great digital signage content is as much science as it is art, and with a few simple tips and techniques you can supercharge bland, ineffective clips, making them into memorable, efficient delivery mechanisms for your messages.

And in these videos, we're going to show you how, one step at a time. Tip #1: The Serial Position Effect.

The serial position effect states that given a list of items to remember, the placement of each item in the list will significantly impact its recall-ability. So, for example, if I were to give you the sentence "Please buy eggs, milk, bread and butter," you'd have a very good chance of recalling the last item, as well as the first item, but the items in the middle of the list would be recalled correctly less often.

This can come in handy, because we can use the serial position effect to make lists that are easier to remember. For example, if I had a list of 5 things that I wanted to show on my screen, I would place the most important element at the end of the list, the next most important element at the beginning of the list, and fill out the middle of the list with lesser items. This way, the most important elements in my list would be the most likely to be remembered.

We can even take things a step further. For example, we can enhance the primacy effect, which helps us remember items at the beginning of a list, by presenting those items slower. This gives the viewers' brains more time to process these early messages, and there's a better chance they'll be able to move them into their short term memory store.

Likewise, we can enhance the recency effect, which is the effect that helps us remember items at the end of a list, by leaving ample time after showing the last list item. However, the recency effect is greatly diminished when an interfering task is given. In other words, if you have a call to action at the end of your content, keep it short and simple so that it won't compete with your core message.

I hope you've learned a thing or two about making your lists more memorable. In our next video, we'll add a few more tools to the memory toolbox when we discuss chunking and coding.

If you'd like to take a deeper dive into today's topic, or if you'd like to learn more tricks about making great digital signage content, visit and do a search for "Making great digital signage content".

Did you find this video helpful? Is the information easier to digest in video form compared to a regular article? Leave a comment and let us know!

Comments (6)

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2013-08-01Chris writes:
Hi Bill,

I always enjoy your blog and this latest post is no different. As a Consumer Psych MSc graduate working in the digital signage industry, it's great to see someone championing the often over-looked science behind the content.

Keep up the great work (looking forward to your chunking video #72)
2013-08-07Bill Gerba writes:
Hi Chris,

Thanks for the feedback. If you liked this first video, I hope you'll enjoy the next few too, which concentrate on viewer psychology and mnemonic devices.
2013-12-11jamil ruley writes:
To answer your question of information digest, for me I always remember or recall information better when text, short, is given. I really found exciting the paragraph on recency because the core of my indoor advertising business and the exclusivity of ad space I offered sought to promote consumer recall longer by not having competing or noncompeting ads in and around our clienta ads at our venues which would hinder recency and recall. That was my niche, exclusivity. Thank you for articulating that for me. Great articles.
2013-12-13TOM RUDMAN writes:
Interesting stuff - thanks:)
2014-05-04Ucuzoglu writes:
Thanks for the feedback.
2014-07-30Gabriella G writes:
That was really helpful! Another great way to spread digital signage is through menu boards, people really seem to respond well to the new digital world and restaurant owners should do the same.

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