Zeigarnik effect examples- Main

Zeigarnik Effect Examples: Four Relevant Instances

Have you ever had that nagging feeling in your mind about an unfinished task? It’s a task you started on, but still, need to finish it. Whether that’s studying for an exam or finishing up a report, you know the work is still incomplete. Many people don’t realize these can be Zeigarnik effect examples. You may be asking yourself, “What’s the Zeigarnik effect?” If you’re not familiar with psychology, allow me to explain the term further.


Zeigarnik effect examples

The Zeigarnik effect takes place when an individual will more likely recall an incomplete task. The idea is someone will more likely remember the details of an unfinished task, compared to a completed task. Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist, developed this effect when witnessing the work of a waiter (back in the 1920s). A waiter likely remembers details of unpaid orders than paid orders. 

Bluma Zeigarnik

Later on, she conducted experiments on how the effect worked. The results were very similar to the waiter example she witnessed. The Zeigarnik effect is the correct psychological term that occurs in people’s daily habits. Although I won’t go over extensive details of the name, I will provide relevant examples you may have experienced recently. In this post, I will go over a couple of examples and my thoughts, including:

1.) Studying for an exam

2.) Writing a paper

3.) Writing a partial email

4.) Writing down tasks on a to-do list

 Zeigarnik effect examples: Studying for an exam

Zeigarnik effect examples- Test

If you’re a current or former student, you know studying for tests can be dreadful. Whether you study ahead of time or cram in an all-nighter fashion, it takes effort to get everything memorized in your mind. When it comes to the Zeigarnik effect, you’re more likely to recall terms when taking study breaks. When several months come by after taking the exam, you’re more likely not to remember the information you studied back then.

For example, are you likely going to recall a specific math formula six-twelve months after taking a math test? You probably will if you take a similar math course a couple of months later. But if you don’t study for quite some time, it’ll be harder to recall what took place on a previous math exam. It’s especially true for people who haven’t taken algebra courses in years. Even some of my relatives couldn’t recall math formulas when I was in school at the time.

Studying for tests back in my years in school

The example of math exams relates well to my past education. I can remember making time and effort to study consistently. Math wasn’t my favorite course, so I had to work a little harder to do well back then. But when I was studying for math tests, I felt like a pro understanding concepts and formulas. Now, I have entirely forgotten how that works. The months and years following my last math course, none of those completed tasks stuck in my head permanently.

Writing a report

Zeigarnik effect examples- Report

Most (if not all) of us have written papers in school or written reports for work. Depending on how long of a report you write, it’s a process and can take time. The Zeigarnik effect applies when you write separate portions of a paper. You’re more likely to recall your research as you move on to the next section of a document. Once you finish that report, you may not readily remember what you wrote several weeks from now. 

My writing projects

From the time I’ve been in school to now, I’ve done a lot of writing assignments. I can remember doing a lot of research back in school. I sounded like an expert in the reports I did. But I’ve had many situations where I don’t remember what I wrote in my papers from several years ago.

One example off the top of my mind was a legal paper I did for a legal writing course. It was one of the best writing assignments I ever did in my life, and I felt good about it. Now though (without looking for it), I don’t recall what I wrote in the paper. I have no idea what the legal case was and the research I had conducted back then. So even if it was several months or years ago, those completed tasks are difficult to remember.

Writing a partial email

Zeigarnik effect examples- Email 2


If you’re somebody who starts an email ahead of time, then you know what I mean. Some people need to write long emails. More so, it’s not worth it to write them out in one sitting. If you’re one of those people, picking up on an email should be easy to finish off. But if you recall a day or two later, you may not remember every single detail in the email you sent out.

I don’t write or respond to many emails myself, but I can relate. Whenever I write an urgent email to somebody, sometimes I’ll do it in multiple sittings. I know that sounds weird, but I’m more formal when it comes to sending out emails. I like to keep my writing easy to read and follow.

Writing out tasks in a to-do list

Zeigarnik effect examples- To Do

It might be more or less in this case, but recalling tasks on your to-do list can help sometimes. Whenever I write a to-do list, I do the best I can to be specific with my assignments. If I write functions that are too vague, I’m more likely to forget about them as my day goes by. Many people will write out a general list of things to do but then forget about it later. You don’t want to follow the “write it down, forget it later” mantra. If you follow that approach, making a to-do list doesn’t help you move closer to achieving your goals.


The Zeigarnik effect is a gripping psychological term on remembering tasks. Until a few days ago, I never heard of the term before. But I was aware of the meaning of partial and complete tasks. It makes sense because I’ve been in multiple situations where I’m likely to remember incomplete tasks over completed ones. 

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t recall what I wrote in the legal paper I did back in college. In the weeks and months after writing it, I didn’t remember the specifics of what I wrote back then. There are many examples I could cover if I wanted to, but this term makes a lot more sense now.

What do you think of the Zeigarnik effect? Can you think of one example where this effect took place in the past? 

Leave a comment below and please share this post with others.

4 thoughts on “Zeigarnik Effect Examples: Four Relevant Instances”

  1. As a student, working three jobs, this was a very grounding read for me. This article gave me a lot of clarity and allowed me to slow down a little in my mind. I have never heard of this Zeigarnik Effect before reading this and it definitely opened my eyes to the affect it can have on our everyday lives. Now when I am feeling overwhelmed, I think about this! 

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Of course, Rebecca! Like I mentioned earlier, I never heard of the effect until a few days ago.

      I’m glad to hear it’s helped you slow down reconsider your daily activities. It did the same for me, and I believe it will help change me for the better. The last thing we want to feel is completely overwhelmed, as you said.

      Thanks for sharing your input! I much appreciate your thoughts.

  2. This happens to me basically all of the time, if not everyday. I wasn’t aware that it was called the Zeigarnik effect. It’s really interesting to know that this was actually developed by someone who has a really strong knowledge on psychology. I think that this effect happens on most of us humans in our everyday tasks. Even if it is the smallest things. 

    • Yes, Stephanie. I agree that even with the smallest things we do can have an impact.

      It happens to most of us daily, for sure. I never understood until now why that was the case, but it is what it is. Human psychology is impressive- a topic like this one fascinates me to a degree.

      Thanks for sharing your input! Much appreciated!


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