Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Ol’ Zeigarnik Effect

Matthew Baldwin, PhD to Ben Mack

If I understand you correctly, then the point is actually brilliant (and remember, I am a NT scholar with a Ph.D. in biblical literature, so I want to be taken seriously on this point). Maybe it’s brilliant whether you know why or not… but the story of Jesus as presented in the gospels and acts is fundamentally unfinished; and yes, it does have to do with the question “is he here yet.”

The final scene in Jesus’ “life” is scripted by Luke, the author of Acts, as follows:

Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked [the resurrected Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The final scene of Jesus’ life as originally scripted by Mark is as follows:

Mark 16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

In fact, the ending of the story comes so abruptly (ending with the anticipatory Greek word gar, meaning “for,” which is nowhere else used as the final word in a text in all of Greek literature) that several different manuscript traditions append other, artificially lengthened versions of the end of the story. But the fact is that the original Mark ended not with the resurrected Jesus but with the “empty” tomb and a couple of scared women! Similarly, Luke “finished” the story by removing Jesus from sight and promising only the indefinite future of an uncertain time of the end.



Ben Mack said...

old essay of mine Dr. Baldwin was referencing...

The Zeigarnik Effect is said to be the most powerful tool of Direct Response marketing, advertising engineered to elicit an immediate response. Direct Response techniques are employed in infomercials, in spam email and letters asking you to send a check right now. Direct Response employs unabashed persuasion. Carl Rove began his career in Direct Response and applies the techniques of Direct Response to his political strategies.

I asked persuasion expert Blair Warren to teach me The Zeigarnik Effect. Blair said, “Ben, people will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.” I asked if that was the essence of The Zeigarnik Effect. He said it was the antithesis of The Zeigarnik Effect. That stumped me. I asked what the opposite of people doing anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies. He didn’t answer.

“Ben, you should know this. You grew up as a kid magician. What was it like when you bought a magic trick from the magic store?” I told him I had bought a 9-inch silk hanky just last week. “No, Ben. I’m not asking about a prop for magic, I’m talking about buying a magic trick, purchasing a magic trick that had you fooled and you had to buy the trick to learn the secret.” I had to think about that for a while. It had been a long while since I bought a magic trick to learn the secret. Then, it dawned on me. The last magic trick I purchased was The Invisible Deck.

Blair asked me about the experience. I told him that the magic store employee had asked me to shuffle an invisible deck of cards and to remove a card and place it up-side-down in the deck. He then pretended to meld the invisible deck with a real deck and my card was up-side-down in his deck. “Ben, what happened after you purchased the trick?” Well, I ripped open the instructions and was extraordinarily disappointed how simple the trick actually was.

“Did you ever buy a magic trick and wait, say, a day or two, before reading how the trick was done?” Never. “Why not?” I couldn’t wait. “Why not?” I needed to know how the trick was done. I wanted to be able to do the same trick. I wanted to be amazing. “Was buying the magic trick a form of the magic store encouraging your dreams?” Yes. Is that what the essence of The Zeigarnik Effect, to encourage somebody’s dreams? “No.” What then? “Human nature – even the most extreme examples of persuasion such as suicide cults and mass movements – are based on the most basic of human desires. Just as magicians can perform miracles using mundane principles, powerful persuaders shape the world in much the same way.”

Are you saying the world is controlled by secret ultra-powerful magicians? “Ben. You sound paranoid when you talk like that. No, I’m not saying that. I am saying that people who have something to gain will often employ whatever they can to get what they want.” Blair, isn’t that the same thing? “No. Magic implies that there is some supernatural power employed. The Zeigarnik Effect simply exploits the basics of human nature.” The Zeigarnik Effect empathizes with people’s passions, exploiting their dreams and fears and whatever they feel strongly about? “No.” What then? “If you wanted to remember ‘encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies’ how would you do it?” I’d make a mnemonic. I’d look at the first letter of each phrase and see if I could make a word: encourage, justify, allay, confirm, throw…e, j, a, c and t. ejact. I’d think ejact, and I could remember that.”

My “letter to the editor” went on and on. Blogger won't let me post it all here in a single comment.

Thanks for reading me.


colin said...

I'm a big fan of Blair's and have his "Forbidden Keys" book - most brilliant for its use of quotes and bibliography which is very meaty for people like myself.

I first heard of the Ziegarnik Effect as a proper noun at one of the StomperNet Live events where Tellman did a presentation - I think that's the first time I met you too, Ben.

I've used the concept a lot since then, but I think for me, the simplest implementation is giving the impression to the audience that this is an ONGOING story.

If you can take what's come before and frame it as a beginning - then take what's happening now and CONNECT them... If you can make a sensible narrative arc, and then graft your desired outcome onto that frame...

In other words, if you can make it so they see their life as a story which is in progress, and that they can COMPLETE this story by taking your desired action...

Essentially harnessing their mode of self expression to your desired ends just like Bernays said.

Now I'm rambling too, but yeah.

The mind loves an incomplete pattern, but imagine when that pattern is more of an incomplete reflection of the prospect, and what's missing is action towards resolution of a SPECIFIC story that has been made clear.

Powerful stuff. Love the blog, Ben. We should get together to do that children's book sometime I think.