Central Traits Primacy Effect and Recency Effect

Assignment prompt:

  1. Explain the concepts of central traits, primacy effect and recency effect and their importance in the formation of attitudes.
  2. Define stereotyping and explain the possible cognitive and social functions of stereotyping.
  3. Outline theories of attitude formation and stereotyping.
  4. What is the difference between prejudice and discrimination and how is stereotyping involved in their development?
  5. Outline and critically evaluate two theories of the causes of prejudice and discrimination.

Explain the concepts of ‘central traits, primacy effect and recency effect’ and their importance in the formation of attitudes.

Based on the results of his study on personality, Gordon Allport grouped personality traits into three main categories; cardinal traits, central traits and secondary traits (Harvard University, 2021). Allport believed that traits make up the basic unit of the person’s personality and defined traits as the predisposition to respond and react in the same way to stimuli in the environment (Niwlikar, 2022). According to Allport’s theory of personality, cardinal traits are those traits that dominate an individual’s personality. These traits are at the top of the traits hierarchy and are the main controller of a person’s personality such that a person may be known for those traits only. As an example, Mahatma Gandhi is known for his honesty, Mother Theresa for altruism or kindness, and Adolf Hitler for being a ruthless dictator.

Secondary traits, which are at the base of Allport’s traits hierarchy, are present in all people and can influence behaviour. However, these traits are only expressed in certain situations or circumstances and are dependent upon immediate context (Niwlikar, 2022). On their part, central traits, which are in the middle of the hierarchy are general characteristics based on which personalities are formed. While they are not as dominating as the cardinal traits, they are the main characteristics that are used by people to describe other people.  All people have varying levels of central traits and these traits influence but do not determine a person’s behaviour.

According to Troyer (2011), the primacy effect is the tendency for individuals to recall information presented first (or at the beginning of a list) compared to information received earlier on (or in the middle of the list). On its part, the recency effect is the tendency by people to recall more clearly the information received most recently (Morrison et al., 2014). The primacy effect explains why people tend to be able to recall information that they received first. Experts believe that the information people receive first is given pre-eminence over that received subsequently. Continue reading


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