Why We Hate Not Finishing What We Start

Why We Hate Not Finishing What We Start

15 Aug 2019

In the 1920s Bluma Zeigarnik, a Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist, conducted a study on memory, in which she compared memory in relation to incomplete and complete tasks. She found that incomplete tasks are easier to remember than successful ones.

Uncompleted tasks stick in human's mind more than completed ones.

Why does our brain work in this way?

Field theory explains the nature of the Zeigarnik Effect. According to the Field theory, a task that has already been started establishes a task-specific tension and this tension is relieved upon completion of the task. If the task is interrupted, the reduction of tension is impeded.

Kurt Lewin, the creator of Field theory, noticed a task-specific tension when he observed how a waiter worked with his orders. The waiter had better recollections of still unpaid orders. However, after the completion of the task - after everyone had paid - he was unable to remember any more details of the orders.

How can we use the Zeigarnik Effect in product design?

Zeigarnik Effect is an essential ingredient of soap operas and serials. Every time the episode ends, something interesting happens that makes us want to watch the next episode. As a result, we get stuck in front of the TV and spend much more time than we expected just to reach the end of the story.

Cliffhangers in TV serials leave the audience in suspense and make them wait for the next episode

But how Zeigarnik Effect can be applied to digital products? Here are a few ways we can use it:

1. Show that you have more content to provide

When it comes to delivering content to your readers, don't disclose everything you have right at the beginning. Instead, break down content into chunks. By breaking down content into chunks, you give your users a clear idea that they are can scroll for more content.

News sites use a technique of chunking when delivering information to their visitors

Quick tip: use ellipsis instead of a full stop in text blocks. By making text block incomplete, you create more interest. Human's natural desire to complete a task will result in the deeper content being read.

2. Motivate users to complete the task

Gamify user interactions - introduce progress trackers which inform users of how close they are to complete a task. When users see a message like "You profile is 30% complete," they are more likely to spend a few minutes on providing all missing details.

PayPal uses the Zeigarnik Effect to make users complete their profile

This works even better when users know about a clear benefit they get when they provide the required information.

LinkedIn: Provide additional information to be more likely to discover in search by recruiters

3. Provide next steps after task completion

Take advantage of the user's state of mind after they've successfully completed the task. It's a perfect moment to focus on a user's on new goals.

After a successful scheduling email campaign, MailChimp invites users to install the mobile app to track reports.
Get our newsletter