The Zeigarnik Effect

In an example of synchronicity yesterday, I came across the Zeigarnik Effect twice in two different locations. I also found it interesting how the concept can be applied in two different situations: work and language learning.

Deep Work

In Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work,” he talks about the idea of completely shutting down after work through a shutdown ritual. The idea is, having a hard stop end to the “work day” allows us to be more productive when we are actually working and allows us to be more present after work.

The concept of a shutdown ritual might at first seem extreme, but there’s a good reason for it: the Zeigarnik effect. This effect, which is named for the experimental work of the early-twentieth-century psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention. It tells us that if you simply stop whatever you are doing at five p.m. and declare, “I’m done with work until tomorrow,” you’ll likely struggle to keep your mind clear of professional issues, as the many obligations left unresolved in your mind will, as in Bluma Zeigarnik’s experiments, keep battling for your attention throughout the evening (a battle that they’ll often win).

Duolingo highlighted 8 tactics language learning app Duolingo uses to increase user retention and one of them utilizes the Zeigarnik Effect.

Because people remember uncompleted tasks better than completed tasks, a way to incentivize a specific user action, in this case reaching one’s daily goal of XP when learning a language, a half filled progress bar guide’s the users behavior.

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