5 Examples of the Zeigarnik Effect
John Spacey, March 20, 2023
The Zeigarnik effect is the theory that people remember unfinished tasks better than finished ones. This was proposed by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in 1927 based on an experiment whereby she asked waiters to recall orders for customers who had paid and those who hadn't yet paid. Waiters were better able to recall the open bills. The following are possible implications and applications of the Zeigarnik effect.
ProcrastinationThe Zeigarnik effect implies that procrastination will increase your cognitive load over time and bog you down with details of things left undone.
Divide and ConquerBreaking large tasks into small tasks and then finishing these quickly may reduce your cognitive load and free your mind to do other things.
Interleaved PracticeInterleaved practice is the process of studying one thing and then studying another such that you frequently switch between topics. If the Zeigarnik effect is true, this may be beneficial as this is a way to generate unfinished studies that get remembered.
Spaced PracticeSpaced practice is the theory that learning takes time such that learning in small portions over many days is far more efficient than cramming. In theory, the Zeigarnik effect could be combined with this to create even more efficient learning -- learning in small unfinished units and tasks over many days.
CliffhangerA cliffhanger is a story that is left dramatically unfinished and unresolved until some future episode. This may increase the audience's interest and memory of the story.
NotesLogically, it makes sense for the brain to prioritize open tasks over closed ones. The brain is highly functional and it's not altogether surprising that it can do efficient things.
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