Zeigarnik Effect

Have you ever forgotten the details of tasks you’ve just completed?

Zeigarnik Effect: Uncompleted tasks stick in your mind more than completed ones.

164 participants were told they would be given a series of 18–22 tasks to complete (Zeignarik, 1927). Each participant was given the tasks one at a time and they ranged from manual work (constructing a box of cardboard, making clay figures, etcetera.) to mental problems such as puzzles or maths questions.

The participants were allowed to finish half of the tasks but we’re interrupted during the other half. The order and type of interruption was such that no one could suspect the reason. Following the experiment the participants were asked to recall the tasks they had worked on:

“Please tell me what the tasks were upon which you worked during this experiment.”

81.3% of participants remembered interrupted tasks best, 9.4% remembered the completed and interrupted ones equally well and 9.4% remembered the completed better than the interrupted. The results showed interrupted tasks were remembered 9 times better than completed tasks!

When recalling the order of the tasks, participants also mentioned the interrupted tasks first 3 times as often as the completed ones.

The study suggests that uncompleted tasks can often remain as intentions, and as such they remain in memory. We are better at remembering the details of incomplete tasks.

This is an extract from my widely acclaimed book, Product Gems: 117 Science Experiments Demonstrating How To Build Products People Love. Get your copy today and join over 1,000 other readers who have purchased this month.

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