The Zeigarnik Effect

October 11, 2017

The Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect : Introduction

The Zeigarnik Effect

Have you ever stayed up late into the wee hours of the night? Cramming for a test, hoping, dreaming, praying, that you will be able to learn, to memorize all of the information that you need to perform well?  Or, let’s say have you ever made a to-do list, that you just never got around to being able to finish, but it bothers you that you were not able to complete every single item on that list?

The Zeigarnik Effect : Bluma Zeigarnik(Psychologist)

The Zeigarnik Effect

Well, thanks to the work of a pretty fly Athenian psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik. The psychology behind phenomena such as these can be easily understood and explained. The zeigarnik effect claims that a person’s ability to recall the tasks, requiring focus. It sounded improved when the individual is interrupted while completing the task itself.

The Zeigarnik Effect : Finished And Unfinished Tasks

The Zeigarnik Effect

This interesting development was further examined in Zeigarnik 1927 work titled Finished And Unfinished Tasks. Where she published the groundbreaking discovery that details of interrupted tasks are recalled 90% better, than details of uninterrupted tasks.

The Zeigarnik Effect : Case Study by Zeigarnik

The Zeigarnik Effect

After first observing how cafe waiters seemed to more effectively remember in process orders, compared to orders that had already been completed. So,  Zeigarnik then tested this working using an experimental setting. Where participants were instructed to complete a series of different tasks. Such as solving a puzzle. The participants were interrupted at one point but were not interrupted while completing the remainder of their tasks. She therefore determined that completed tasks are more easily forgotten.

Since their call benefits are lost. Whereas incomplete tasks preoccupied unconscious mind until they are completed.  A person’s ability to recall the particular tasks requiring focus is then improved when the individual is interrupted while completing the task itself.

The Zeigarnik Effect : Example

If you have ever watched the American sitcom The ‘Big Bang Theory’. You would know that Sheldon Cooper is one of the main characters who was obsessed with a successful completion of tasks. During episode 21 of the sixth series, titled ‘The closure alternatives’. Sheldon has asked to undergo a series of scenarios to help with his compulsive need for closure by his neurobiologist girlfriend Amy Fowler.

The Zeigarnik Effect

The scenario such as not being able to complete a game of tic-tac-toe, Drive Sheldon crazy. Causing him to experience intrusive thoughts, until the tasks are completed. Once Amy leaves at the end of the episode. Sheldon quickly completes all the interrupts attached to his satisfaction.

The interruption of a task causes character said to Sheldon, to experience intrusive preoccupying thoughts, until the task at hand is complete. The Zeigarnik effect has often widely been used in books movies and even comics in the form of a cliffhanger. Such as ‘To Be Continued’.

The Zeigarnik Effect : Use In Industry

Typically, this type of device is used before a commercial break. When the author or director wants to maintain the interest and attention of readers or audience members. For example, if a storyline of a particular book is interrupted by cliffhanger. Readers will be left wanting more. Wondering that what will happen next. Readers will not be able to experience closure until the next book in the series is released.

The Zeigarnik Effect


Email marketers also employ this effect in the creation of headlines they capitalize on the fact that by avoiding and punctuation in cliffhanger headlines. Customers may decide to view an email, so that they can  finally satisfy their curiosity.

Headlines without in punctuation or with a cliffhanger are therefore perceived as unfinished or uncompleted, compared to headlines that end with a period or feature no cliffhanger effect.

The unconscious mind is therefore triggered, until the individual can read the contents of the email. Interestingly, advertisers have taken full advantage of the Zeigarnik effect by applying its principles to their marketing strategies.

The Zeigarnik Effect : In Advertisement

For example, an Internet user may experience an unsolicited pop-up advertisement once visiting the main page of a website. Utilizing the psychology behind the Zeigarnik effect internet marketers strategically place these pop-up ads throughout a website users online experience. So the individual is prompted to do whatever is necessary to get back to their interrupted tasks.

The Zeigarnik Effect

Such as online shopping, often these opt-in ads asked web users to subscribe to an email list, so that they can receive coupons and other discounts electronically.

As a result marketers acquire important contact information of website visitors. So they can continue to channel targeted promotional ads to them. They’re monitoring their purchasing trends. So the next time you are cramming for a test are left wondering whether or not that to-do list will ever get done.

The Zeigarnik Effect : Interrupt Yourself

The Zeigarnik Effect

Remember that you need to first interrupt yourself by taking a break. This pause and productivity will then trigger your unconscious mind to seek the completion of these tasks. Allowing yourself to better Park all the information that you need to memorize for your test or the tasks you need to complete on your unfinished to-do list.

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