Memory & Cognition

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 146-155

First online:

The recency effect: Implicit learning with explicit retrieval?

  • Alan D. BaddeleyAffiliated withMRC Applied Psychology Unit
  • , Graham HitchAffiliated withLancaster University


The recency effect in free recall features prominently in 1960s' theorizing about short-term memory, but has since been largely ignored. We argue that this stems from a preoccupation with the role of recency in the concept of primary memory and the neglect of its role in a broader working-memory framework. It is suggested that the recency effect reflects the application of an explicit retrieval strategy to the residue of implicit learning within a range of cognitive systems. When retrieved implicitly, the same residue is assumed to form the basis of priming effects. The various criteria for implicit learning described by Tulving and Schacter (1990) are successfully applied to the recency effect, and a retrieval process is outlined that can account for both long- and short-term recency effects. It is suggested that a framework combining recency, priming, and implicit learning provides a basis for understanding one of the most important features of cognition and memory, namely, that of maintaining orientation in time and place.