I recently read a story about the psychoanalyst, Dr. Kurt Lewin, a well-known and published clinician. This immediately got my attention, because he is my psychoanalytic grandfather. In psychoanalytic training, a subspecialty of psychiatry and psychology, each psychoanalyst has to do his or her own psychoanalysis as a component of the training. He was my Training Analyst’s psychoanalyst. My analytic great-grandfather was Freud, but enough digression and genealogy.

One day in 1927, Dr. Lewin finished a meal with colleagues, and called the waiter over to ask for the check. The waiter immediately told him how much his group owed. A few minutes later, on a hunch, Dr. Lewin called the waiter back and asked how much their bill was. At that point, the waiter had no idea.

Dr. Lewin was intrigued, and his colleague, Dr. Bluma Zeigarnik, then ran experiments in her lab.

She had people perform a number of little tasks, like solving puzzles, and interrupted some of them halfway through. She then asked all of her subjects which activities they remembered. Her conclusion was that people tend to remember incompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. This observation is now widely known as the Zeigarnik Effect.

This effect has been used both in academia and advertising. It helps us understand why unsolved problems are so addictive, the allure of mysteries, how suspense keeps audiences interested, and how marketing can be more effective. The notion that leaving something incomplete makes it more memorable.

The most effective speakers leave the audience with a question, with something to think about.

This keeps the process of inquiry alive. This has even been known to induce readers to…


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