What is the human mind ? Is it the abyss or the ultimate organized structure? Or the abyss and the ultimate organized structure all in one? So, to understand it, or, at least, merely try to grasp a tiny bit of these sophisticated movements of the human psyche in a casual life and daily work we are going to learn what Zeigarnik effect is and how it works… Let’s go back in time to Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik’s lab in the early decades of the last century, and then find out how we can use Zeigarnik effect in writing for Web and User interface design…
I’ve started so I’ll finish!
In the 1920s, after Bluma Zeigarnik (1900-1988) graduated from the University of Berlin where she was studying psychology, she worked with Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin ( the founder of modern social psychology ) on one of his projects, the results of her work ( ZEIGARNIK, 1927 ) were first published in 1927 and made her known worldwide. Bluma’s original study was about the tasks that are interrupted and remembered by adults approximately 90% better than those that are fully completed, and that children, in general, remember only interrupted tasks. Today, such an astonishing human memory state is very well known in science, psychology and advertising and named after its founder “Zeigarnik effect”. Experiments on this subject in different variations are still taking place these days. Zeigarnik effect is less commonly known as Ovsiankina-Effect and sometimes The Cliffhanger Effect.
A busy waiter can be very inspiring
Believe it or not, but the main motive for these studies was an ordinary waiter in a restaurant in Berlin, where Dr. Kurt Lewin and his colleagues were engaging in a long conversation. The waiter had not brought them the bill yet, so Lewin called him over and asked him what amount they had to pay. The waiter told him the sum straight away without any notes, Lewin paid and after switched back to the conversation for a few minutes again. Suddenly he called the waiter over again for the bill, but the waiter no longer remembered anything about the order and the sum to be paid…
“To be continued…”
This psychological effect is used commonly in articles, stories and in advertising clips, where the story often ends pretty unexpectedly. The situation wasn’t solved and the person remembers the story. The English novelist Charles Dickens mastered this Cliffhanger technique. Many of his novels that were published in former time were as serials. We can use this effect in Web writing by creating a mental tension, when a reader needs to urgently click on links or buttons, or for instance, this effect works fully in blogs, when the reader can only see the beginning of several articles or just headlines on the main page. The situation of uncertainty appears right after you read the snippet…and the process is now the same. The human psychie does not tolerate any uncertainty at all. The curiosity and the desire to get a definite answer lead the reader to click on the link…
The dark side of the Moon
Nevertheless, this effect has a flip side. As you already know the website user does not tolerate uncertainty. In this case Zeigarnik effect can play a bad joke with you . The user always, at any time and anywhere on your site has to be able to answer these questions:
- Where am I right now?
Most often, this question occurs when the site has a confusing navigation, lack of breadcrumb trails or the user doesn’t understand on which page he is located right now as the menu item doesn’t stand out.
- What can I do?
This question originates when the user does not see the website’s features and possibilities, for instance, when links are not emphasized or do not stand out with colours at all or not enough.
- How can I do?
This question appears when the user doesn’t understand how to perform some actions on the website, for example, it often happens when the site has a bizarre, unusual interface or non-standard navigation, so the user is finally lost at sea and the next step is to leave…
If the website doesn’t answer these questions, unfortunately the confused user will leave the website. This is where Zeigarnik effect has its negative form.
So, call it a day
The effect of uncertainty catches the user’s attention, because, according Zeigarnik effect “pending actions are remembered much better than completed ones”. And on the other side, this effect does its dirty work when the user feels uncertain with unusual things.
Nice to know
Zeigarnik effect has an important exception. Motivation is the key to all of our goals, so this effect does not work well, when we are not motivated enough. But, if you are determined to achieve these goals, viola!