Z is for… Zeigarnik effect

Our A to Z reaches the end!

Suggested by Paul Redford, University of the West of England 

'Can’t stop thinking about all the things you need to do? Blyuma Zeigarnik found we’re better at remembering incomplete than completed tasks – the Zeigarnik effect. How to stop? Masicampo & Baumeister (2011) show it helps to construct a specific plan to complete these tasks. Just consider them……’

Critical goals still unconquered at the end of a work day are the path to a spoiled evening, according to a 2015 study from Brandon Smit [who appears to have an unfinished surname] covered on our Research Digest. Planning where, when and how each task would be tackled allowed participants with high ‘job involvement’ to better let go after hours.

In a 2012 study of ‘earworms’ covered on our Research Digest, Ira Hyman Jr and colleagues proposed that the playing of only a part of a song in your head leaves it incomplete and thereby increases the likelihood of its return against your will as an earworm. This insight suggests that one way to squash a developing earworm is to make sure, once a song starts playing in your head, that you see it all the way through (perhaps you will need to listen to the track again to ensure this is possible).

In a Research Digest special feature, David Lavallee described how the Zeigarnik effect ‘came to the rescue’ when he was moving home.

Check out tinyurl.com/y7r6vr9s for an excellent Scientific American blog post from Maria Konnikova ‘On writing, memory, and forgetting: Socrates and Hemingway take on Zeigarnik’.

- Read our now complete A to Z

Illustration: Karla Novak

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