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The Zeigarnik Effect: Why Getting The Ball Rolling Is The Best Antidote To Procrastination
An experiment from the 1920s explains why cliffhangers are so compelling and starting a task is often the most important part.
Have you got an item that is forever lingering on your to-do list? Maybe it’s a task that requires a decent chunk of time to complete. Perhaps there never seems to be enough time to spare to make it worth starting right now, so it just keeps getting pushed down the to-do list, but that deadline is coming ever closer. Sound familiar?
If you have a task in mind, stop reading this article and go and take a blank sheet of paper and spend just one minute planning out how you intend to tackle the task, and then come back here and continue reading. If it’s an essay, write the first line; if it's a report, start writing the contents page. For now it doesn't matter what you write, and it doesn’t matter if it’s your final answer. Indeed you might well erase it later; all that matters is you write something; all that matters is that you start the task.
Congratulations, you have just activated the Zeigarnik Effect, which will cause you to feel the niggling urge to complete the task from now on, until you finish it. The Zeigarnik Effect was discovered by Bluma Zeigarnik in the 1920s when she found that people have a better memory for tasks that they have not yet completed. In her experiment she gave people puzzles to complete but interrupted them half way through completing some of the puzzles. Zeigarnik found that people were twice as good at remembering the tasks that were interrupted compared to the tasks that they were allowed to complete.
The experiment was inspired following an observation by Zeigarnik’s professor Kurt Lewin who noticed the tendency of waiters to remember their open orders in detail before promptly forgetting all the details of these orders just as soon as the cheque was settled.
The Zeigarnik Effect might also explain why you just can’t help but watch that next episode of Mad Men, as cliffhangers leave us with that very same niggling feeling that we all have when we haven’t quite finished a task.
Reference: Zeigarnik, Bluma. (1938): "On finished and unfinished tasks." A source book of Gestalt psychology. 300-314.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
When facing a tough decision, it pays to trust your gut.
- A recent study examined the accuracy of predictions of soccer matches on a popular betting website.
- The users were allowed to revise their bets up until the match started.
- Surprisingly, the results revealed that the revised bets were much more likely to be incorrect.
Why did users change their minds?<p>"We can only speculate, but we might imagine that game players input their initial forecast, following which they look at the latest online betting odds on the match, or look for other information which might affect their judgement, such as news on team selection for the match," the researchers wrote. "Alternatively, these revisions could simply be the result of changes to initial judgements without any new information."</p><p>You might think the ability to revise your prediction would be an advantage. After all, maybe you had more time to carefully consider which team is more likely to win. Maybe public opinion on the two teams had shifted over time. Or maybe one of the teams had recently begun an incredible winning streak.</p><p>But the results of the study showed that prediction accuracy decreased significantly — by about 17 percent — when users revised their original predictions. Why? Given that the study controlled for variations by players and teams, it's unlikely that the drop-off in accuracy was due to some matches being harder to predict than others, or some users being better predictors than others.</p>
Pixabay<p>One possible explanation is a behavioral bias that describes how people are likely to overreact to news that is salient. So, when you learn, for instance, that a player on one of the teams was injured, you might respond excessively to that news, leading you to revise your original prediction.</p><p>The results revealed that revisions made after a longer period of time, as opposed to just a few minutes, were much less likely to be correct. Also, users were less likely to predict correctly when their revised predictions included <em>higher scores</em>, for example, changing a 1-2 outcome to a 2-3 outcome. Interestingly, most users underestimated the likelihood of a 0-0 draw. Broadly, this suggests that we tend to falsely believe it's more likely for <em>something to happen </em>than <em>nothing.</em></p>
Trust your gut<p>The researchers wrote that their findings "could have relevance to other contexts where judgmental forecasting explicitly takes place and which have real economic importance, such as in company management and planning, financial markets and macroeconomic policy."</p><p>Of course, sometimes new information <em>should </em>cause us to revise our decisions. But for situations where new information is unlikely to significantly alter the outcome, the results suggest it's best to make a decision and stick with it.</p><p>This aligns with research from Stanford professor Baba Shiv, an expert in the neuroscience of decision-making. Shiv's research found that, even though we often face tough trade-offs when making complex and emotional decisions, a key component of successful decisions is staying committed to our choice. Shiv <a href="https://hbr.org/2013/11/stop-worrying-about-making-the-right-decision" target="_blank">told</a> Stanford Business magazine: "When you feel a trade-off conflict, it just behooves you to focus on your gut."</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
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Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?