Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting focused: The "Zeigarnik Effect"

Hi folks, I hope everyone's midterms went great!

I know I have been talking in my previous posts about getting organized and having a to-do list will help you get through your lengthy list of readings and assignments, but there is a book that posited that making a plan can actually help you get focused.

 So why is it hard, especially for students to focus sometimes? There is this phenomenon that is known as "Zeigarnik Effect".

Bluma Zeigarnik, 1921
Russian Gestalt psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik suggested that we remember uncompleted tasks better than completed ones. Furthermore, it has been theorized that the unconscious mind wants the conscious mind to complete a forgotten task, so it keeps sending little reminders. This has been demonstrated in several research studies.

In fact in a recent study, the researcher had university students think about their most important exam. Students in the control group were told to think about their most important social engagement on their calendar. Half of the students thinking about their exam were told to make a specific study plan: what, when and where they would study. No one did any actual studying during the experiment.

Then, all students were asked to complete word fragments that were specifically constructed. Depending on how the words were completed, they could refer to studying. For example, the word fragment re__ could be completed as the word “read,” but it could also be “real” or “rest.”

If thoughts of the unfulfilled studying were still on the student’s mind, the Zeigarnik effect should influence students to create more study-related words. This is exactly what happened, but only for those students who thought about the exam but didn’t come up with a plan. For the other students who developed a study plan, their minds were cleared of exam-related thoughts.

So how can you use the Zeigarnik effect to stay focused? If to-do items pop into your mind while studying, write them down and make a plan to complete them. As you become more proficient with your study plans, you should find yourself less distracted by pesky thoughts and more focused on the task at hand.

Baumeister, R. and Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower. New York, NY:  Penguin Group.

I hope this helps!

Till next time,

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