Thanksgiving and the Zeigarnik Effect

22 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving. You’d think I’d be counting my blessings. But no. I’m trying to remember where I put the last CD of the book and CD #8 of Never Let Me Go. Once again, I amcaptive once again to the Zeigarnik Effect.



Back in the day (the 1920s to be specific), scientist Bluma Zeigarnik was watching waiters in a café. They would remember a person’s order, go deliver it, and then forget it. The completion of the task allowed them to be free of remembering “Wiener Schnitzel mit Spaetzle at table five” However, if the task could NOT be completed, it would nag at them. If you want to know more, you can of course go to pick up a 1927 copy of the Psychologische Forschung and read her article “Uber das Behalten von Erledigten and Unerledigten Handlunge.” Or, you could, like some shallower people (me), just google it. This phenomenon is now known as the Zeigarnik Affect. And since that’s the best name of anything ever, I intend to apply it as frequently as possible.

I had some dear friends a while back who were great exemplars of the Zeigarnik Effect. The wife joked that the husband could not finish anything because he’d remember that there was a pencil stub he’d dropped somewhere and he had to find it before he could go on. One day I was visiting them and we planned to go to the beach. Somehow, all day long, he was looking for mysterious objects whose absence nagged at him, and when he found them, she was deep into some mysterious project that had nagged at her. Luckily, I was feeling very lazy and they had this wonderful object called “the trough”—a kind of open wooden basket that ran all along the wall, filled with everything from bills to letters to old magazines. As I am nosy and my friend is mellow and tolerant, she gave me free run of the trough, and I was entertained for hours. We got to the beach at 6:00 p.m., which in normal circumstances might have annoyed me. However, on this particular day, the temperature was perfect, the sky was a magical mixture of purple, orange and white, sandpipers were hopping along the edge of the water, the sun was a dark golden ball rolling a shimmering carpet of light through the purple waters, the sand felt warm and the water cool, with lacy trails each time it retreated  . .  . it is one of my most magical memories, with them and with myself. And we never would have reached the beach at that perfect moment had it not been for the Zeigarnik Effect.

So I guess the Zeigarnik Effect actually IS a blessing. Although I just wish I could remember what I did with CD # 8 of the ironically named Never Let Me Go.

Writing Prompt: Have YOU experienced the Zeigarnik Effect?

2 Responses to “Thanksgiving and the Zeigarnik Effect”

  1. Julie Goldberg November 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    I don’t know if I have experience the Zeigarnik Effect, but I was saying last night that I should have a cooking show called “Cooking With ADHD,” in which you will begin as soon as you remember where you put the ingredient that YOU KNOW DAMN WELL YOU TOOK OUT AND DEFROSTED AND PLACED IN A CONVENIENT LOCATION–oh, there it is! Oh, good. Let’s begin. First, find the correct blade for the food processor. Honey, where the hell did you put the ONE ATTACHMENT I NEED TO MAKE THIS SIDE–, oh, look! There it is! Dish drain, of course! Now, then…

  2. Kathy W. November 24, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    The question for me would be,when am i NOT experiencing it? It is my daily bread. I remember things only for a short while; as soon as I no longer need it them, they are gone, baby, gone. As soon as an issue ships, I not only forget what I wrote but THAT I wrote it. Once I hit SEND, I’ll likely forget this as well. *Sigh.*

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