Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Ziegarnik Effect

The soap opera is playing on television, the tension mounts, grips you, you are on the edge of the seat, or, couch, hanging on to each word spoken by the characters... what is going to happen? what? and then the soap ends. Familiar? Yes, this is a most usual scenario we face every evening on the idiot box, that every ardent follower of saas-bahu (mother-in-law-daughter-in-law episodes) are familiar with. But what is this called, this sudden building up of tension, this sudden withdrawal, this teasing of the senses?

In advertising there are teaser campaigns. Day after day an advert appears on a scheduled page with some sort of teasing line, which doesn't disclose what the product is, or, who is advertising. The tension builds, you are in the nail-biting stage of curiosity, progressing inexorably towards incurable dementia, when the final advert appears. Aaaah! Seems like it is a condom/restaurant/newspaper launch advert. Also, seemingly, it is a game, which it is.

The game, or rather the effect is called the Ziegarnik effect and is the bread-butter-and ghee of those sultans of the soap box. It was first invented, or, formulated, or, whatever you may call it, by a Russian by the name of Bluma Ziegarnik while she was sitting in a Viennese cafe in the nineteen twenties. While waiting for her order to be fulfilled, she did a bit of scouting around and found that the waiters remembered the unfulfilled orders well, while they completely forgot the orders they had served.

Come to think of it, we all do that, don't we? I mean, give only teasers and then wait for the tension, the finale to build up? We see the cute newscaster on television saying prissily, "When we are back we will show you how a five-year-old boy survived in a pit of vipers with only his wits around him." And then comes all the boring adverts and you are waiting, waiting to see how the boy survived. And after that you wonder, "Damn, what was all the fuss about?"

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