What is the backlog effect?

What is the backlog effect?


The unfinished action effect, or Zeigarnik effect, is a well-known phenomenon in psychology. It was discovered in the 1920s by a Soviet psychologist, the founder of Russian pathopsychology, one of the founders of the Faculty of Psychology of Moscow State University. M. V. Lomonosova Blumoy Zeigarnik and named after her last name.

What is the Zeigarnik effect?

According to the definition of the Great Psychological Encyclopedia, the effect of unfinished action (Zeigarnik effect) is a phenomenon that characterizes the influence of breaks in activity on memory processes. Its essence lies in the fact that interrupted tasks are remembered better than completed ones. This occurs due to the preservation of motivational tension, which arises at the beginning of the action and is not completely discharged when it is not completely completed.

In simple words: a person remembers better an action that was left unfinished or the completion of which was delayed for a certain period of time. If a task was set and not completed, the brain continues to remind you of this, and the person involuntarily returns to it with his thoughts again and again.

Zeigarnik discovered this effect while interning in Berlin with the famous psychologist Kurt Lewin. Once in a cafe, Levin drew her attention to the fact that the waiter remembered all the details of the order well, without resorting to notes, but when he completed it, he could no longer remember what exactly the visitors ordered. This observation gave impetus to the experiments that Zeigarnik described in her thesis. It was found that unfinished actions were recalled by healthy participants 90% better than completed ones. In patients with schizophrenia – by 10%, in patients with epilepsy – by 80%, and in patients with asthenic syndrome – by 20%.

It turned out that the effect of unfinished actions also depends on other factors: the age of the subjects, the ratio of the number of completed tasks to the number of unfinished ones, the time required to solve each task, their relative difficulty, the person’s attitude towards the interrupted activity, his interest in completing the task, etc. In particular, it turned out that the effect is not observed when a person is very interested in the goal – in this case, completed tasks are better remembered, while interrupted tasks are stored in memory with weak motivation. It was also found that memory processes are influenced by the level of aspirations and self-esteem of the individual: it turned out that with adequate self-esteem, the Zeigarnik effect occurs, but with increased or decreased self-esteem, it does not.

Where does the unfinished action effect occur?

The effect of unfinished action manifests itself in our lives in all sorts of situations. For example, when you suddenly break up with a loved one, it becomes more difficult to come to terms with the loss and forget about your ex-lover. Psychotherapists even have special techniques that allow them to end such situations and save clients from mental suffering.

The Zeigarnik effect also explains the addiction to TV series that many people suffer from. Often at the end of each episode, writers use a so-called “hook”: this is some kind of intriguing situation, the outcome of which the viewer will find out only in the next episode.

Another manifestation of the unfinished action effect is a song that we accidentally heard and which “stuck” in our head. For the human brain, a song that is not completely remembered is an unfinished action, so it scrolls through the fragment it knows in an attempt to “complete” the song as a whole. This is impossible to do, therefore, in order to get rid of the obsession, you need to listen to the composition in its entirety and remember it – then the brain will consider the task completed.

The Zeigarnik effect is used by many business coaches in their training. For example, at the end of the first day of training, they give the group a task. But after the participants voice their solutions, the coach promises to give the correct answer only at the next meeting. Thus, it motivates students not to forget about the task and continue to search for the right solution.




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