Zeigarnik EffectOpen Access

Zeigarnik Effect

Incomplete tasks weigh on our minds until done

Whether it’s a waiter recalling a long order or a birthday card yet to be sent, tasks left incomplete create a tension, craving for closure and, ultimately, certainty.

Zeigarnik, B. (1938). On finished and unfinished tasks. A source book of Gestalt psychology, 1, 300-314.

The study

Setup

47 subjects were given around 20 small, manual tasks to complete, one at a time. Experimenters randomly interrupted completion of half of these tasks. After, subjects were asked to recall as many tasks as possible.

Results

There was a 90% higher recall of incomplete and interrupted tasks than those completed.

Study graph

Key Takeaways

Make important task completion frictionless. If customers leave your site without finishing their order, make it effortlessly easy to get that completion feeling, such as allowing for completion with a single click, tap or swipe. 

Takeaway image

Focus on completion’s emotional release. Providing reward incentives for task completion actually demotivates consumers. Instead, remind them not just of the product they’ve not yet bought, but of the feelings that this ‘purchase task’ will unlock. 

Takeaway image

Make known campaigns incomplete and interactive. Greater familiarity with an advert increases consumer ability to complete an interrupted ad message. Active participation also boosts ad memory (Heller, 1956). So if your popular campaign’s reaching its end, consider a special second follow-up version that allows for active participation in completing the ad message. 

Takeaway image
Takeaway image
Zeigarnik Effect

Zeigarnik Effect

Incomplete tasks weigh on our minds until done

Whether it’s a waiter recalling a long order or a birthday card yet to be sent, tasks left incomplete create a tension, craving for closure and, ultimately, certainty.

The study

Setup

47 subjects were given around 20 small, manual tasks to complete, one at a time. Experimenters randomly interrupted completion of half of these tasks. After, subjects were asked to recall as many tasks as possible.

Results

There was a 90% higher recall of incomplete and interrupted tasks than those completed.

study graph
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