The Zeigarnik Effect

Have you ever noticed that when you finish something you can put it out of your mind but if you don’t finish something it keeps “nagging at you” until you go back to it? If you’re like most people, you’ve experienced these feelings. This effect is called The Zeigarnik Effect, named after the researcher who first investigated it.

Russian psychologist Blyuma Zeigarnik discovered through a series of experiments that tension aids retention and satiation eliminates tension and therefore satiation also eliminates retention. In a series of 43 tasks such as sketching, printing names and assembling puzzles, some tasks were interrupted before completion and other tasks were fully completed. In recalling several mixed series of these completed and uncompleted tasks, the uncompleted ones were remembered 90% better than the completed tasks. Further research by organization development guru Kurt Lewin and others has supported this conclusion – what gets interrupted gets remembered.

So in a learning event, if an individual is allowed to come to complete closure on a topic or the event, they are not likely to think about it as much or as often after training. If, however, the trainer or course material leaves some “loose ends”, the trainee is more likely to think about the topic afterwards and put the skill into practice. Of course these “loose ends” often result in trainee frustration, so the interruptions or lack of closure needs to be carefully balanced. One way to do this is to promise participants at various points in the learning that everything you (the trainer) do has a purpose and if there is a question about what the purpose is, to ask.

For more information on using The Zeigarnik Effect in training, see Making Training Stick.

Until next time…

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