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By Joanna Slusarewicz

The Zeigarnik Effect and why it’s important in technology

When creating effective websites and blogs, it is important to take into account the minds of the consumers. The effective use of psychological principles can often mean the difference between a sale and a yawn. One of the more interesting and relevant developments in psychology was made by Russian psychologist Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s.

What is the Zeigarnik effect?

The Zeigarnik Effect is defined in Merriam-Webster as “the psychological tendency to remember an uncompleted task rather than a completed one.” Recent experiments have examined people’s ability to remember test questions that they were able to complete versus those they were unable to complete during a set time. Sure enough, the subjects were better able to remember the questions that they did not finish.

One potential explanation for this behavior is that leaving tasks unfinished gives us feelings of failure, making us more likely to remember what we missed. Incompleteness goes against human nature; we seek closure from everything we read or do, and become frustrated if we are unable to achieve it.

The Zeigarnik effect in everyday life

One of the easiest places to see the Zeigarnik effect is in your email inbox. Often, chain mail and company advertisements will leave the subject line unpunctuated, or will end with ellipses or a question mark. Creators hope that the reader will be left frustrated by the incompleteness of the phrase or idea and will be spurred to read on in the email to complete their understanding of the idea. In this way, ambiguity can be one of the most dependable tools for the spammer.

Another common use of the Zeigarnik effect is in primary and secondary schools. After teaching lessons, rather than allowing students to leave with the knowledge contained within the lesson, teachers often assign problems for students to complete at home. Since their work within the classroom is never fully complete, based on the Zeigarnik effect, students are more likely to remember the material from day to day.

But what does all of this mean to you?

Using the Zeigarnik effect

When developing a website or creating content to hook readers, it is important to keep titles and subheadings short and ideas unelaborated upon. The more ambiguity within the title, the more likely readers are to read on (this is the secret to the infamous click-bait).

This method even extends to website organization. Based on the Zeigarnik effect, an article organized as a list of “seven reasons why” will be more interesting and more memorable than a traditional article. Consumers will be more greatly persuaded to finish an article if they know how much they have left.

In addition, when displaying content, rely heavily on previews and never display full content on the home page without requiring another page click. A reader will be more intrigued by a snippet of information than by several paragraphs of potentially skimmable (or ignorable) content.

Using these tips, you can take psychology into your own hands and create an effective and profitable website.

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