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The Zeigarnik Effect

The other day my friend and I heard a tune and couldn’t recall which other song also had a very similar tune and my God did we keep scratching our heads about it endlessly! Has it ever happened with you too? Well then you too have encountered the Zeigarnik effect, a psychological phenomenon that's as fascinating as it is frustrating.


Imagine your brain as a messy desk (we've all been there). Tasks are sticky notes plastered everywhere, some crumpled, some highlighted, reminding you of things you gotta do. But here's the twist: the stickiest, most bothersome notes are for tasks you haven't finished. That's the Zeigarnik effect in action. Until you cross something off that list, your brain keeps it front and center, like a nagging roommate who just won't let you forget the dishes in the sink.


Why? Because unfinished tasks create cognitive tension, a mental itch you gotta scratch. It's like a cliffhanger in a movie – you gotta know what happens next, even if it means staying up half the night binge-watching. This tension motivates us to complete the task and, once we do, that sweet release washes over us like a post-laundry-folding zen nap.


Remember the famous “Kattapa ne Bahubali ko kyun maara?!” phase we all got wrapped in? That’s a great example of how the Zeigarnik Effect led to a huge success of the sequel movie.


The Zeigarnik effect is everywhere! That forgotten song stuck in your head? Zeigarnik. The lingering thrill of an unsolved mystery? Zeigarnik. The obsessive checking of your phone for a reply that hasn't come? Yup, you guessed it: Zeigarnik!

But what is this about?

The Zeigarnik effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people remember unfinished tasks better than completed tasks. This is because unfinished tasks create a state of cognitive tension, which motivates us to complete them. This tension is relieved when the task is finally finished.


The Zeigarnik effect was first named after Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist who studied the phenomenon in the 1920s. Zeigarnik observed that waiters were better able to remember orders that they had not yet delivered than orders that they had already delivered.

The Zeigarnik effect has been replicated in many studies since then. For example, one study found that people were more likely to remember unfinished crossword puzzles than completed crossword puzzles. Another study found that people were more likely to donate to a charity if they had previously started but not finished filling out a donation form.


The Zeigarnik effect has a number of implications for education, business, and everyday life. For example, teachers can use the Zeigarnik effect to help students remember material by giving them practice problems that they can't finish in class. Businesses can use the Zeigarnik effect to create marketing campaigns that pique people's interest and leave them wanting more. And in everyday life, we can use the Zeigarnik effect to our advantage by making a list of things that we need to do, so that we don't have to keep them in our heads.


So how can we harness this quirky quirk of our minds? Well, for starters, use it to your advantage. Remember that deadline looming like a thundercloud? Channel your inner Zeigarnik and leave your task unfinished the night before. That cognitive itch will keep you up, fuelled by the need to scratch it – i.e., finish the darn thing. Boom, productivity unlocked!


So, there you have it, the Zeigarnik effect: a curious case of unfinished business that makes our brains tick (sometimes to the point of annoyance). Embrace it, understand it, and maybe even use it to your advantage. And next time you find yourself haunted by the ghost of a task undone, remember – it's not just you, it's your brain's little reminder system playing tricks. Now go forth and conquer that to-do list, one sticky note at a time!


P.S DhairyaDa is about to launch...🤐


-Muskan Santwani

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