Experiential Ordering

Serial Position Effect

The first and last items in a series tend to be recalled more easily than other items (Deese & Kaufman, 1957). This concept may be applied when determining the best order to present a list of information or key points during coaching or instructing.

Interestingly, a similar phenomenon, a form of serial position effect, had been studied by early kinesiologist, FE Nipher in 1876.

Deese J and Kaufman RA (1957) Serial effects in recall of unorganized and sequentially organized verbal material, J Exp Psychol. Sept 54(3):180-7

FE Nipher, Assistant Professor of Physics in Washington University (1876). Probability of error in writing a series of numbers. American Journal of Science and Arts. 12(112), 79-80.


Anchoring, or focalism is a cognitive bias that explains the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information when making decisions. A classic example is the initial price of a used car is used as the standard for subsequent negotiations, making the initial price seem more reasonable even if it was higher than the fair market price of the car. Anchoring is very difficult to avoid and has an effect when the anchor is known to be incorrect (Strack & Mussweiler, 1997) and even when the recipient knows they are being manipulated by an anchor. Also see Cognitive Dissonance.

Anchoring can be used by exercise professionals, nutritionist, or other wellness counselors using a Client Centered Approach to set high expectations when proposing terms when offering choices to their clients. Clients may be willing to put more effort into a behavioral proposal or accept a higher level of commitment, if more challenging behavioral goals are proposed first, since having the client consider an initially more challenging behavioral proposals will likely have greater influence on establishing their expectations than subsequent recommendations. This theory would suggest to present a reasonably high standard first, based on the client's individual goals and constraints, then if needed, work down by proposing a somewhat less lofty behavioral goal until the client was confident they could comply or adhere to a more reasonably manageable goal.

Strack F, & Mussweiler T. (1997). Explaining the enigmatic anchoring effect: Mechanisms of selective accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(3), 437-446.

Wilson TD, Houston CE, Etling KM, & Brekke N (1996). A new look at anchoring effects: Basic anchoring and its antecedents. Journal Of Experimental Psychology, 125(4), 387-402.

Remembered Utility

Remembered utility is determined largely by the peak intensity of the pleasure or discomfort experienced during the episode, and by the intensity of pleasure or discomfort when the episode ended. Interestingly, the duration of the episode has almost no effect on its remembered utility. Kahneman explains that people make wrong choices between experiences to which they may be exposed, because they are systematically wrong about their affective memories.


Kahneman, et al. (1993) had subjects submerge their hand under painfully cold water under two conditions. They found that subjects preferred 60 sec of 14ºC ice water followed by 30 sec of 15ºC ice water over 60 sec of 14ºC ice water alone. These results seem counter intuitive since both conditions 14ºC and 15ºC are unpleasant. Subjects appeared to prefer and directly choose more pain over less pain in this case.

Similarly, patients who experienced more pain during a medical procedure (colonoscopy or lithotripsy) paradoxically rated the same medical procedure less painful with an additional phase where the discomfort tapered off gradually, as opposed to dropping off precipitously after reaching a peak (Redelmeier & Kahneman, 1996).

The memories of pain are largely affected by the peak intensity of the pain, but are somewhat subdued if the final part of the experience is tapered, even if this extends their experience. Lengthy painful durations were not remembered as particularly adverse.

To reduce the clients memory of pain, lowering the peak intensity of pain is more important than minimizing the duration of pain. With the same goal in mind, gradual relief so intense pain does not occur near the end would be more be tolerable than abrupt relief, in retrospect to the client.


The same retrospective evaluations are applicable to pleasure. People will recall having less enjoyment with the addition of a milder pleasure at the end of an experience. So it is recommended to only present the best experience or reward, or to present the best only after the lesser rewards or experiences. (Do, Rupert & Wolford, 2008)

Do AM, Rupert AV, Wolford G (2008). Evaluation of pleasure experiences: The peak-end rule. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(1), 96-98.

Kahneman D, Fredrickson DL, Schreiber CA, & Redelmeier DA (1993). When more pain is preferred to less: Adding a better end. Psychological Science, 4, 401-405.

Redelmeier DA, Kahneman D (1996). Patients' memories of painful medical treatments: real-time and retrospective evaluations of two minimally invasive procedures. Pain, 66, 3-8.

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