Zeigarnik effect

Theory explained by Sander Volbeda and written by Bluma Zeigarnik

Think of that one great TV series that you started watching recently. How quickly do you move between episodes? After watching one episode do you really wait for the perfect rainy evening to watch the next episode leisurely or do you find time to watch the next episode as soon as possible? If you are one in the majority of us, you will definitely choose the second option, but why? Is it the mere curiosity, or the boredom? It’s true that there are unresolved questions and you are itching to know what’s going to happen next. According to human psychology, it is not just the curiosity that makes the compulsion, but the Zeigarnik Effect.

The Zeigarnik Effect discusses how strongly incomplete activities stick to our minds than the completed tasks. We have this psychological tendency of wanting to close the loop. Recall that moment when something was stuck in your head until you completed it. For example, if we fail to complete something knowing that we have the possibility of doing so; it creates an uncomfortable state in our minds followed by tension. That feeling acts as the compulsion to complete the task. This tendency of human psychology is widely used by online marketers for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). Think about it. We all have seen that progress bar that appears when we fill up a web form which denotes the progress of our task. This progress bar appears in many online payment processes as well. Even though we never notice how this UI element influences us, it actually encourages us not to stop in the middle without completing it. As the result of Zeigarnik Effect, we really don’t want to abandon the process in the middle and it definitely works to the favor of the business for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

How to use the Zeigarnik Effect in UX for CRO?

Let’s see some real world examples of how Zeigarnik Effect works in action in a few popular websites to influence consumer decisions to their favor. The same techniques can be used for Conversion Rate Optimization in your website too. Stay tuned!

LinkedIn and the Zeigarnik Effect

As we all know, LinkedIn requires us to submit quite a comprehensive lot of information in the process of creating an account. But we don’t bother about providing that information, instead we go ahead with the process. LinkedIn works in the super smart way to obtain information from their audience. What is this smart way?

  • First, they don’t overwhelm the people by presenting lengthy forms or anything, but simply let the users sign up with nothing much.
  • Later, our information is collected in a few steps presenting us with the progress of account completion.

Here works the Zeigarnik Effect. Each time we see the incomplete status of the process, it encourages us to complete it as soon as possible. The more the signed up users, the more the possibilities for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) are. Use the LinkedIn way to influence your target audience too!

Amazon and the Zeigarnik Effect

Amazon also uses this tendency of human psychology to their favor. We all know Amazon never let us complete a transaction in one go, but it is broken down into several stages. Therefore, when a user initiates a transaction, he or she experiences the urge to move from one stage to the other as a result of Zeigarnik Effect. This motivation brings the users to the end of the transaction, and BOOM! Amazon has converted another visitor to a buyer!

Medium.com and the Zeigarnik Effect

Medium is a very popular website among readers that enables them to read and share ideas from experts and world class publications from around the world. Medium never prevents the users from reading their star article. But if you are not a member, they let you read a few lines for you to get into the momentum and then interrupt your reading by asking you to sign up to continue. When we are really into the content, the last thing we want is to get interrupted. With this interruption, the users don’t get the chance to complete what they started and here works the Zeigarnik Effect persuading them to sign up to complete reading.

Summarized

Many websites use the Zeigarnik Effect to their favor for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). Getting the maximum use of this human psychological tendency of having the urge to complete an action should be done with care, by not interrupting the users too harshly to create disappointment. To conclude our guide, we wish you great success in implementing the Zeigarnik Effect on your website!

A new cognitive bias every week!

Join our weekly mailing list to continue learning about CRO and psychology.

References

The references contain experiments and studies that prove this bias is there.

1. The Art of Sustainable Performance: The Zeigarnik Effect
2. Memory for incomplete tasks: A re-examination of the Zeigarnik effect

Books

Would you like to go more in-depth? Here are our recommendations:

Laws of UX: Using Psychology to Design Better Products & Services by Jon Yablonski Buy this book

Sources

Don't believe us? This is where we've found our data.

Only available with an account Register for free, no credit card required
  • Brain iconDirect access to 100+ cognitive biases
  • Brain iconLearn how to apply biases
  • Brain iconAccess to a great community
Create Your Account

Do you think you know enough about CRO?

Join our monthly mailing to continue learning more and more about CRO and psychology.