The Zeigarnik Effect
Do you know why we remember incomplete tasks better? This explains it.
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The Zeigarnik Effect
You’re spending weeks studying for your finals, the day comes, you ace them… But just a few moments after each exam, you feel like most of what you studied just disappeared from your mind.
Just recently happened to us, so we had to do some research.
Turns out, it’s called “The Zeigarnik Effect”.
Short explanation: Back in 1927, Bluma Zeigarnik observed the effect of interruption on memory processing. Her professor from the University of Berlin had noted how waiters seemed to remember incomplete tabs more efficiently than already paid tabs.
This suggested that completed tasks could lead to them being forgotten. Zeigarnik decided to test her hypothesis and published “On Finished and Unfinished Tasks.”
Those findings, along with future experiments based on this have some interesting applications in marketing, advertising, and content. Let’s dig through them.
Three Tactics Based On The Zeigarnik Effect
Maybe you’ve already guessed it but The Zeigarnik Effect is one reason why those “open loops” for TV shows are so powerful.
We’re left with an unfinished task, our memory of the events is still fresh in our minds, even if it’s been a month since the last season of your favorite series ended. Don’t tell us you’re not wondering what Seong Gi-hun will do next, every once in a while…
2/ Gamification of products
This one is especially happening in the online space. I’m going to share some ideas and examples of companies using them but I’m sure you can find more.
It’s one of those things that once you see it, you cannot unsee it.
You are regularly reminded that you are on a path to learning a language, there are always tons of completed and incompleted tasks.
You are basically reminded that “work is not done” so you get sucked into it again and again.
b) Progress bar for courses, online surveys, signups, etc.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a detailed study on this, but there’s often a reason this is the standard for all online courses, tools, surveys, and more out there.
This taps into The Zeigarnik Effect as well, keeping our mind more focused on the task we just started, emphasizing the incomplete status with the visual reminder.
c) Loyalty and reward programs
Do you know those cards where you collect stamps to get a free item? Well, there’s just a real-life progress bar that keeps our brains wired in for completing that task.
We’ve even seen barber shops use it. And they work! Never been more of a regular for getting haircuts.
3/ Getting Things Done
Aka, using the Zeigarnik Effect to become more productive.
If you structure your to-dos the right way, the Zeigarnik Effect kicks in to help you complete them.
The key? Choose the right first task. Don’t put something so difficult that you end up not starting at all. Start with something easy enough that then gets you in the flow.
Now, before you “Zeigarnik-ise” everything in your work, keep in mind that you should not use this effect if the task is too short, or too easy.
Use it when the final goal is more complex and made of several tasks, use it when the task is the core of your product, and make sure the goal is still within reach.
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A Review From A Fellow Marketing Psychologist...
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The Crew will see you next Thursday. And I will see you on Twitter.
Abhishek “The Marketing Psychologist” Shah