Zeigarnik Effect: Understanding Unfinished Tasks and Mental Persistence
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Zeigarnik Effect: Understanding Unfinished Tasks and Mental Persistence

Zeigarnik Effect

How many times have you found yourself laying half-awake in bed, your subconscious criticizing you for an incomplete task? Anxiety and stress grappling up your head? However, it is doubtful that if you have felt this sense of urgency with previously completed chores or not. The fun part is you might not recall anything about the things you completed on your to-do list. This is because your brain tends to “delete” information that it perceives as useless after it has been used. Therefore, this phenomenon, also known as the Zeigarnik effect, can help you explain how memory’s complicated mechanisms work. While it may bring difficulty with incomplete tasks, you may also utilize it to improve your general mental health and peace of mind.

What is the Zeigarnik Effect?

The Zeigarnik effect is a hypothesis attributed to Lithuanian researcher Bluma Zeigarnik. One day while sitting at a crowded restaurant, she noticed that the waiters had an excellent recall of incomplete duties, but after the bill was paid, the waiters struggled to remember the specific details of the request. Hence, Zeigarnik proposed that inability to complete a task causes underlying cognitive stress, which is why it makes you keep returning to it again and again.

Mechanism Of Zeigarnik Effect

When our brain gets information, it keeps it in sensory memory for a relatively short period. Sensory memory is the temporary storage of information obtained via our five senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—before it is moved to short-term memory. If we pay attention to the information, it will be retained in our short-term memory. Many of these short-term memories fade fast, but when a job isn’t completed, our brains repeatedly rehearse it to keep the knowledge fresh. That’s what causes the underlying cognitive strain. Once we finish the activity, the information is quickly forgotten.

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Essentially, when we have an incomplete work, we can’t help but torture ourselves by recalling it again to retain it in our short-term memory. Our minds won’t let go until it’s finished. This is why TV dramas utilize cliffhangers after episodes.

Impact of Zeigarnik effect on mental health?

The Zeigarnik effect notion suggests a good impact on mental health. When given a task, the subconscious mind will prompt your conscious mind to devise a precise strategy. As soon as the plan is realized, the subconscious no longer has to tell the conscious mind to strive toward the objective. Hence, the end outcome makes the mind more relaxed.

When the Zeigarnik effect is present in the brain, you may continually establish objectives for yourself. So you could be concentrating on establishing strategies to achieve those objectives. You may be so focused on your goals that you continue to plan and execute them until the work is completed.


The disadvantage of the Zeigarnik effect is that while being active, someone may never cease establishing goals or completing activities. Your mind may become “stuck,” or focused on finding the next task to complete. This may be compared to a track runner jumping over hurdle after hurdle on an infinite course, only to find nothing but more obstacles ahead and this may result in burnout. Sometimes, undesirable thoughts regarding unfulfilled chores might lead to: Symptoms of worry, stress, sleeplessness, and feeling overwhelmed.

Methods of using the Zeigarnik effect for advantage (rather than evil):

1) Reduce your procrastination:

If you’ve been putting off a task for a long time, start with the simplest work possible – even if it’s as simple as opening a Word document and typing down the title of your report. Once you’ve done that, the work will stay incomplete until you finish it. Because your mind needs to close the loop on that work, frequent reminders will encourage you to take little steps toward completion, bringing you closer to the end goal.

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2) remember more information:

Whether you’re preparing for a huge exam or attempting to remember a speech or presentation, divide your preparation into sections. Or else spread your learning over multiple days. If you cram all of the material into your mind the night before your big day, you will have a lower chance of remembering everything because it is no longer an incomplete task, and therefore easily forgotten. Brief pauses might be beneficial for learning huge chunks of information since they convey to your brain that something is incomplete. Take purposeful breaks when reviewing your course material prior to a large exam. It may be as easy as reading two lines, getting up to buy a coffee or take a lunch break, and then returning to the remainder.

3) Remember challenging names:

Since the epidemic, all networking and activities have taken place online, which means you might meet and be introduced to individuals from all over the world. Some names may be difficult to recall (due to their length, difficult pronunciation, or unfamiliarity with the accent). Learning difficult names in sections (i.e., introducing interruptions) is an effective strategy for remembering them. Learn one part of the name, memorize it, and then return to the second portion once you’ve finished memorizing the first. You will find it far less difficult to remember them this way.

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4) Improve your study skills

Many students may believe it is ideal to cram immediately before their examinations, attempting to acquire as much material as possible in a short period of time. Some believe this will help them recall more information and do better on the test. However, the Zeigarnik effect suggests that it may be preferable to divide your study time into smaller periods spread out over a longer period of time.

If you give your brain time to focus on anything else, you may be able to remember more knowledge. During those intervals, your mind may go over the subject several times until the exam is complete. This may improve your recall power at the time of the exam

5) Marketing

Marketers have long leveraged the Zeigarnik effect to capture consumers’ attention and memory. Heimbach (1972) conducted a series of studies to investigate the possibilities for the Zeigarnik effect in advertising. In one such study, the researchers created 30-minute television programs featuring four tests and five filler ads, which appeared during program breaks. Some ads were played in their entirety, while others were paused.

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Immediately following the television program, the researchers asked participants to identify the type of product, the brand name of the product, and a thorough description of the contents of each of the nine ads presented to them. Overall, there was minimal evidence to support the researcher’s premise that the Zeigarnik effect might be used to broadcast advertising. However, a more rigorously controlled experiment done later by Heimbach revealed that interrupted ads were more likely to be recalled than those that were not (Heimbach 1972).

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