The Zeigarnik Effect explained

Have you ever wondered why so many TV shows end in cliffhangers? Or why you do better on tests in school when you take breaks while studying? It all ties back to the Zeigarnik Effect.

Discovered by Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik in 1927, the Zeigarnik Effect states that humans have a far easier time remembering an incomplete task than one that’s completed.

It turns out that the brain has an innate desire to have things feel finished, and when they’re not, that desire to go back and finish them causes the formation of strong memories. These memories are so powerful, that according to Zeigarnik’s study, people’s retention of incomplete tasks were a staggering 90% better than their retention of completed tasks.

Knowing this, you can use the Zeigarnik Effect in your content to help people remember your brand. In the same way that movie trailers will tease bits of info about the movie without revealing the whole story, you can use Hook Points that make your audience want to learn more about your brand to get that feeling of resolution.

For example, look at this recent Buzzfeed article “Fun Facts” You’ve Heard Dozens Of Times That Actually Aren’t True At All”. That headline creates a “task” in your brain — now that you know there are some facts you know that aren’t actually true, you have a strong desire to read the article to resolve that curiosity. By utilizing Hook Points that are evocative and thought-provoking like that, your audience will subconsciously need to have that thought finished.

But be careful you don’t overdo it. Too many open loops and the brain starts to feel overwhelmed, weakening the effect. So stick to just one Zeigarnik Effect per Hook Point.

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