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Get Ready…You’re Next.

“When will I get to speak” – Instead of attending to Mr. Know-It-All, they wait in anticipation for their turn to speak next.

Imagine that you are in class and your teacher has split the class into multiple groups, assigning each group different chapters of your reading to summarize for the class. In your group, you collectively brainstorm with your other group members about chapter four and write down the main topics and themes that pop up throughout your discussion. When your teacher signals that it’s time for each group to share what they talked about, all your group members assign you to be the spokesperson since you have jotted down some general notes. “Yeah, sure. It’s no big deal,” you think to yourself. “It’s not a formal presentation or anything, I just have to summarize what we talked about.” The group’s spokesperson for chapter one goes first, followed by the group’s spokesperson for chapter two and then chapter three. As it nears your turn, you start to think about how to present a clear and concise summary to the class as your classmates have just done. All of a sudden, you’re up next, so you stand up and tell the class about the main topics your group discussed. When you sit back down, the group for chapter five begins to share, but you look back over your notes making sure you did not forget to include anything important. At the end of class, your teacher gives a mini quiz about the chapters the class just summarized, and you realize that you can’t really remember anything from the presentations on chapter three or five. What happened? You were subject to the next-in-line effect.

The next-in-line effect occurs when you lack the ability to remember events that occur immediately before or immediately after your own presentation or performance. Malcolm Brenner first observed this phenomenon in his 1973 study where he had a group of participants sit in a circle and take turns reading words out loud to the group. When they were asked to write down as many words from the group activity as they could remember, the results showed that the participants were often unable to recall the words that were presented to them nine seconds before and after their own performance of reading a word aloud. But why does the next-in-line effect occur?

To investigate this question further, we must first understand how memory works. To start, information must be perceived and then processed for its visual and auditory features and its meaning. Then, encoding occurs in which all of this information is put and stored in your memory. Paying attention to the perceived

Our belief that we can perfectly multitask is almost as unrealistic as someone having six arms.

information is crucial for encoding to occur as features that are not attended to will most likely not be remembered (Chun & Browne, 2007). However, our attention has a limited capacity and is a limited resource. Dual-task situations show that when a participant must complete and pay attention to more than one task, their performance in those tasks are significantly worse than if they were to perform each task individually. For example, a study by Sanbonmatsu, Strayer, Biondi, Behrends, and Moore (2015) shows that when people talk on the phone while driving, they are more likely to make critical driving errors. Additionally, when participants were later asked to assess their driving, they were unable to recall the errors they had made. This study shows how attention is limited as talking on the phone diverted participants’ attention away from driving, resulting in more driving errors. It also shows how information that does not receive full attention is not encoded into memory as participants could not recall the driving errors they committed. However, if information is encoded, it can then be stored in either short-term or long-term memory where it may be retrieved or accessed.

To explain the next-in-line effect, Brenner theorized that the anticipation of having to perform took away the participants’ attention to others’ presentations. This lack of attention made it difficult for the participants to encode, and then later, recall the words. Because participants were anticipating their own performance, their attention would wander from the current presenter and focus on preparing for their own presentation or looking for the cue to signal their turn. This explanation is further supported by a study by Bond and Kirkpatrick (1982) who followed Brenner’s 1973 experiment, but added the manipulation of telling participants whether they would or would not perform. Participants who were told beforehand they would perform, and when they would do so, experienced anticipation when they were next and displayed next-in-line effects. Other participants were told they would perform but did not know when. As a result, these participants were in anticipation throughout the whole experiment which hindered their ability to encode and later recall the words as well. Lastly, some participants did not know they would perform until they were called on during the experiment. These participants showed no significant loss in memory for the presented words compared to the other two groups of participants. The results of Bond and Kirkpatrick’s study (1982) further supports Brenner’s theory that the anticipation of having to perform diverts attention away from what is happening in the present moment and thus, these events are not encoded and remembered.

In order to avoid being as nervous as this person, you may prepare for your performance beforehand, but at a cost of diverting attention away from the current performer.

The anticipation for a performance has been linked to anxiety, specifically social anxiety and public performance anxiety (Bond & Omar, 1990). Bond and Omar (1990) found that people with higher levels of anxiety were more likely to display next-in-line effects. Based on these results, some researchers have suggested that the next-in-line effect occurs due to one’s failure to retrieve information instead of one’s failure to encode because of state-dependent retrieval. State-dependent retrieval is when you can recall information better when you are in the same state (e.g., mood) in which you learned and encoded the information. Innes (1982) argued that the lack of memory for the words presented immediately before and after one’s performance can be explained by the fact that arousal or anxiety was experienced during encoding of the words but was not experienced during the recall task. However, Bond and Omar (1990) found that participants who were in a state of anxiety before their performance also experienced having anxiety when they were asked to recall the words, and they did not show better performance of memory. Instead, Bond and Omar (1990) suggest that anxieties may enhance one’s anticipation for a performance which further disrupts the encoding process.

Charles F. Bond (1985) also presents evidence against the retrieval failure argument and further supports Brenner’s original theory of the failure to encode information. Bond repeated Brenner’s experiment (1973), but when participants were asked to recall the words, he provided cues to try and facilitate the retrieval. If the next-in-line effect occurred due to one’s failure to retrieve, then providing cues should facilitate participants’ performance on the memory tests and eliminate memory deficits. However, the data from Bond’s study (1985) shows that the cues did not have a significant effect on participants’ memory deficits. This further supports the failure to encode explanation because since the words were not encoded and stored into memory in the first place, there was no word to retrieve and so the retrieval cues had no effect in memory performance. 

Thus, while your group members did not have to anticipate or worry about presenting to the class, you did, and as a result, you were subject to the next-in-line effect. While preparing what you wanted to say, you were not fully paying attention to your classmate summarizing chapter three. After your presentation, while you were evaluating your own performance you also did not fully pay attention to the group presenting chapter five. This lack of attention resulted in a lack of memory for the information your classmates presented. As demonstrated, the next-in-line effect can be seen in a classroom and group setting but it also commonly occurs in everyday conversations. For example, when you are first introduced to someone, you might forget their name just a few seconds after they told you because you were anticipating having to introduce yourself as well. Additionally, while someone is talking to you, you may be thinking of how to respond or what you want to say next and as a result, you may miss the specifics of what they said. In summary, while you may be ready to perform next, just note that your memory for prior events may not be ready to perform as well as you might hope.



Bond, C. J. Jr. (1985). Next-in-line effect: Encoding or retrieval deficit?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(4), 853-862.

Bond, C. J, Jr. & Kirkpatrick, C. K. (1982). Distraction, amnesia, and the next-in-line effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 18, 307-323. 

Bond, C. F., & Omar, A. S. (1990). Social anxiety, state dependence, and the next-in-line effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology26(3), 185–198, doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(90)90034-j 

Brenner, M. (1973). The next-in-line effect. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior12(3), 320–323, doi10.1016/S0022-5371(73)80076-3. 

Chun, M. M., & Turk-Browne, N. B. (2007). Interactions between attention and memory. Current Opinion in Neurobiology17(2), 177–184, doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2007.03.005 

Innes, J. M. (1982). The next-in-line effect and the recall of structured and unstructured material. British Journal of Social Psychology21(1), 1–5, doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.1982.tb00505.x 

Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Strayer, D. L., Biondi, F., Behrends, A. A., & Moore, S. M. (2015). Cell-phone use diminishes self-awareness of impaired driving. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review23(2), 617–623, doi: 10.3758/s13423-015-0922-4 

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