What is the Zeigarnik Effect?
In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. (Wikipedia.com)
“Have you ever thought about a movie you didn’t finish for way too long? Had a song that you only know some of the words to stuck in your head on loop?…”
History of the Zeigarnik effect
In the 1920’s, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik performed a series of studies involving task interruption. Her most well known study involved over 100 children, each of whom had to perform a simple challenge such as a jigsaw puzzle. Half of the children were allowed to complete the task, while the other half were interrupted partway through. An hour later the children were asked about the task they performed. Only around 10% of the children who were allowed to complete the task remembered it, while nearly 80% of those who were interrupted remembered it vividly.
Ok cool, why should I care?
Have you ever thought about a movie you didn’t finish for way too long? Had a song that you only know some of the words to stuck in your head on loop? Have you ever clicked on a link titled something like “Doctors hate him! Here’s why” These are all due to the Zeigarnik effect. Our brain wants to finish unanswered questions and uncompleted tasks, and these can take up a significant amount of mental space when not completed. This also takes place at school and work, when you don’t complete a task or assignment you brain keeps reminding you of it. This can lead to high stress and stress about being stressed and having so much to do.
So, it is best to just finish things you start, so you have more mental space to focus on tasks at hand.