Ovsiankina effect

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In psychology, the Ovsiankina effect describes the innate human urge to finish tasks we've initiated. This tendency to resume an interrupted action is especially prevalent when the action hasn't yet been achieved.[1] The effect is named after Maria Ovsiankina, who conducted research on this behavior.


The principle underlying the Ovsiankina effect posits that an interrupted task, even without any explicit reward or incentive, creates a "quasi-need". This drives intrusive thoughts, compelling an individual to resume and possibly complete the task.[citation needed] This may result in cognitive dissonance if the task remains unfinished.[citation needed]

Kurt Lewin's field theory[2] provides an explanation for this behavior, suggesting that an interrupted action constitutes a condition for a strained system. This tension and strain make the task more memorable, a phenomenon better known as the Zeigarnik effect.[citation needed]

While the Zeigarnik effect highlighted the tension and memorability of unfinished tasks, Ovsiankina's research delved deeper into the subsequent behaviors this tension fostered. Specifically, her studies demonstrated that when individuals were interrupted during a task and later given free time, they displayed a strong inclination to return to and complete the task.[citation needed]

Modern Implications[edit]

The principles behind the Ovsiankina effect have broad applications across various sectors:

  1. UX Design: The urge to complete tasks can be harnessed by designers to nudge users into completing tasks or actions on digital platforms.[3]
  2. Education: Teachers can use this effect to structure lessons, introducing challenges early on and resolving them later to maintain student engagement.[4]
  3. Advertising & Marketing: Advertisements may utilize cliffhangers or unsolved mysteries to make their products or messages more memorable.[5]
  4. Entertainment: TV shows, book series, and video games frequently employ cliffhangers to keep audiences returning.[6]
  5. Productivity: Understanding the desire to finish tasks can aid in personal and professional productivity.[7]
  6. Mental Well-being: Recognizing the stress that incomplete tasks can introduce is essential for mental health.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ovsiankina, Maria (1928). Die Wiederaufnahme unterbrochener Handlungen (PDF) (in German). Psychologische Forschung. pp. 302–379. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2022.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ Lewin, Kurt (1936). Principles of topological psychology.
  3. ^ Montag, Christian; Lachmann, Bernd; Herrlich, Marc; Zweig, Katharina (2019-07-23). "Addictive Features of Social Media/Messenger Platforms and Freemium Games against the Background of Psychological and Economic Theories". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 16 (14): 2612. doi:10.3390/ijerph16142612. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 6679162.
  4. ^ Online, EDHEC (2021-04-01). "How to Learn Better with the Zeigarnik Effect?". EDHEC Online. Retrieved 2023-08-14.
  5. ^ Bauer, Christoph; Spangenberg, Katie; Spangenberg, Eric R.; Herrmann, Andreas (2022-07-01). "Collect them all! Increasing product category cross-selling using the incompleteness effect". Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. 50 (4): 713–741. doi:10.1007/s11747-021-00835-6. ISSN 1552-7824.
  6. ^ TV, Buddy (2009-09-14). "'True Blood' Finale Sets Up More Cliffhangers". BuddyTV. Retrieved 2023-08-14.
  7. ^ Rose, Dr Hannah (2022-06-14). "The psychology of unfinished tasks". Ness Labs. Retrieved 2023-08-14.
  8. ^ Weigelt, Oliver; Syrek, Christine (2017-12-20). "Ovsiankina's Great Relief: How Supplemental Work during the Weekend May Contribute to Recovery in the Face of Unfinished Tasks". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14 (12): 1606. doi:10.3390/ijerph14121606. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 5751022.