Recency bias refers to the tendency to overemphasize recent events or information, while overlooking or undervaluing older or more historical information. It is a bias that often misleads to believe that recent occurrences indicate how the future will unfold. 

What is recency bias?

Recency bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when individuals give more weight or importance to recent events or information when making decisions rather than considering the overall picture or full scope of available information.

In other words, recency bias occurs when our brains prioritize more recent experiences or information over older experiences or information. Events that happened in the past one or two months are defined as recent events, whereas older events have occurred earlier in the 12-months appraisal period.

Recency bias can impact decisions in various areas of life, such as investments, hiring decisions and performance evaluations. 

Connection to the halo effect

Recency bias can lead to the halo effect, where people’s overall impression of a person influences their general perception of that person. 

With recency bias, people overvalue recent experiences, which can create a halo effect and lead to judgements or evaluations based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

For example, suppose a person has recently experienced positive or negative interactions with a particular person. In that case, they may have a more positive impression of the person even if they have no other interactions with that person.

Recency bias – meaning and explanation

First, the term “recency”  refers to something that is recent or fresh in our memory. When something is recent, it tends to be more prominent in our minds, so we are more likely to recall it when we need to make a decision. This is closely related to the availability heuristic, a mental shortcut where individuals base their judgments on the most readily available information in their memory. 

Second, “bias” is defined as a particular tendency that is preconceived or unreasoned, which refers to a systematic error in thinking or judgment that can influence our decision-making. For example, in the case of recency bias, the systematic error is that we tend to place more importance on recent information, which can lead to overlooking relevant information.

The impact of recency bias in daily life

Recency bias can manifest in various ways in our daily lives. Below are a few examples of where it can manifest.

Hiring decisions

Recency bias can impact hiring decisions in several ways.

For example, a recruiter may be influenced by the most recent interviewee’s positive impression and overlook the qualifications and experience of previous candidates. This can lead to hiring the wrong candidate for the job.

Instead, recruiters should have a standardized evaluation process where they consider all candidates’ qualifications and experiences. 

Investing decisions:

Investment decisions can also be affected by recency bias. 

For instance, an investor may make decisions based solely on the most recent market trends without considering the company’s historical performance. This can lead to purchasing stocks that may not be beneficial in the long run.

Instead, investors should consider the company’s historical performance, financial statements, and industry trends before they invest.

Performance evaluations:

Recency bias can also lead to unfair performance evaluations. 

For example, a manager may give more weight to recent performance than of the employee’s overall performance over the year. This can result in employees receiving poor evaluations despite their excellent performance throughout the rest of the year.

Instead, managers should consider the employee’s performance over the entire year when they evaluate it.

Academic evaluation:

Lastly, recency bias can affect academic evaluation. 

For instance, a student may only study the most recent material, ignoring the cumulative learning from every other topic they covered previously. This can result in poor academic performance in the long run.

Instead, students should review all the topics they have learned throughout the year and ensure that they have a complete understanding of each topic before moving on to the next one.

Real-life examples of recency bias:

Primacy bias – the opposite of recency bias

Primacy bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when individuals give more importance to the first piece of information they encounter when they need to make a decision, rather than considering the overall picture.

Thus, primary bias is considered the opposite of recency bias.

Like the latter, primary bias can influence decision-making in various areas of life, such as hiring decisions. For example, it can cause recruiters to give more weight to the first candidate in the interview rather than considering the qualifications and experience of subsequent candidates who are interviewed. 

How to avoid recency bias

Recency bias can be challenging to recognize. However, it is positive to mitigate its impact on decision-making.

Here are some strategies to avoid the bias: