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The Incomplete Effect: My Uncle Has...

Trends and Insight 91 Add to collection

The Zeigarnik effect states that people remember incomplete information more than -

The Incomplete Effect: My Uncle Has...

My uncle has a grey t-shirt. On this grey t-shirt is the following:

‘There are two types of people in this world: 1) Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.’

That is it.

Now for those with a vague (or as in my case, maddeningly intense…) itch to complete lists and sentences, this is an irony I must find amusing. I can understand the statement, there are those who can, and those that can't; yet that lingering of an incomplete sentence makes my left eye twitch ever so slightly. Like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, there must be three knocks on the door; like the pedant, who must identify and correct the error; like the jingle on the radio that gets abruptly cut off, and must be finished; I am highly aware of the human limitation of wanting to complete and finish tasks.



If you’re anything like me, and the majority of the population, your brain automatically fills in the gaps (‘Knock, knock. Who’s there?’ – a common joke in the UK). But what if that automatic, almost unconscious, assumption is limiting our brain's capacity for critical thinking? What if this is actually curbing our thought processes? What if, your brain, when unhindered by the answer, becomes far more creative?

In my very first Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) session run by LAB, this was a question posed to me. I wanted to finish the list – I wanted to know the final step of being able to do NLP. I had grasped number one - calibration, and I was painfully aware of number two - rapport, yet there was a number three. Waiting empty on the cold, unforgiving board. Waiting to be filled. Waiting to be explained. The cognitive wheels started turning. Coughing and spluttering, the dust got blown off; what could number three be? I was told I would find out in a week...

Funnily enough, less than five hours after this session, my inherent need for completion is explained as the Zeigarnik Principle, that states:

People pay greater attention to and remember things that are incomplete.

How can this be applied? Explicitly stating steps, e.g. Step 2 of 5, on a website encourages the user to continue their journey. Carousels on websites make the user actively search for more information. Eye-catching questions in titles coax the reader into delving in - naturally you want to know the answer. My compulsive need to complete the list we started in NLP is, in fact, a human behaviour shared by all.

There are two ways we use this in our work at LAB: 1) We introduce cognitive strain to increase memorability.

Natasha Kingdon is junior content creative at LAB.
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LAB, Thu, 16 May 2019 09:52:18 GMT