1% Everyday – Are interrupted tasks recalled better than completed tasks?

My colleague Mariana Kuper found this article to contribute to 1% Everyday. She and I thought that it was very thought provoking and wanted to share.

A sliver of history of memory research from the gestalt world:  Zeigarnik Effect

“The Zeigarnik Effect is the tendency for tasks which have been interrupted and uncompleted to be better remembered than tasks which have been completed.

Bluma Zeigarnik (1927) first saw this effect in waiters.

In fact, participants (in experiments) were twice as likely to remember incomplete tasks than complete ones (Zeigarnik, 1927; Denmark, 2009). She replicated this experiment with 15 individual adults and in group situations with 47 adults and 45 adolescent children.” – https://www.simplypsychology.org/zeigarnik-effect.html

However, as more people do experiments on memory and interruptions these findings do not generalize but the idea seems to persist. Here is a part of the article that says the findings are not repeatable or conclusive:

“Hovland (1951) for example stating that “few investigators could unequivocally reproduce Zeigarnik’s findings,” and arguing that findings differed dramatically depending on participant personality.

A review by Butterfield (1964) concluded that the Zeigarnik effect is far from being the invariable result in ITP [interrupted task paradigm]. 

Frequently, more complete than uncompleted tasks are recalled,” and many psychologists since then (such as Atkinson (1953) have claimed that there is no “universal pattern” as to whether or not and which sort of participants recalled more incomplete than complete tasks (MacLeod, 2020).“ – https://www.simplypsychology.org/zeigarnik-effect.html

Some considerations:

  • Anecdotally does this Zeigarnik Effect seem correct?
  • What do you with a story that persists because it feels correct even when the facts refute it?
  • Are there cases where you can draw attention to the interruption to make it salient and useful as a memory tool?
    • Can you get someone to rehearse something in their head so that they can remember by setting an interruption and anticipation of recall?
    • Is this the best way to get someone to memorize?
  • What are better ways to encourage memorization of material?

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