CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Warning: Zeignarnik Effect Ahead

Reading Roadguy’s account (I’ve got the Twin Cities on my mind, I guess) of his trip to this year’s American Planning Association meeting, I was intrigued by his description of a panel on “digital billboards.”

Roadguy noted a delicious sort of Catch-22 during the talk: “Fellow panelist Marya Morris, a Chicago-area consultant, pointed out the conundrum that owners of digital signs face: They argue that the signs aren’t distracting while simultaneously telling advertisers that such billboards “can’t be ignored.”

I’ve not yet seen a good, peer-reviewed study on the safety (or lack thereof) of digital billboards (and if anyone has, please advise). Anything from the industry must be viewed as suspect (guess what: they’re safe!), and a controlled, before-and-after study of a highway section where a billboard has been added would be a tricky proposition (unless it became an immediately apparently crash hotspot). One study I’d like to see done, just of out curiosity, would be to gather loop data near the billboards: Do they have a deleterious effect on traffic flow itself?

Roadguy noted something else of interest: “Morris and Baker both spoke about the Zeignarnik effect, a psychological compulsion to focus on a task not yet completed, and how it causes drivers to look at digital signs repeatedly. Baker cited a billboard in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as particularly perilous: it displays multi-part riddles.”

Not having had any psychology as an undergrad, this Zeigarnik effect was new to me, but as I love a good effect (who doesn’t?), I cast a cursory Google-glance over at 43folders and found this delightful account:

“While sitting in a restaurant in Vienna—every good story about a psychologist takes place in Vienna—Bluma Zeigarnik noticed that a waiter could remember a seemingly endless number of items that had been ordered by his customers. However, once he had delivered the orders to the waiting diners, he no longer remembered what he had just served….

Though Zeigarnik didn’t get her coffee cup refilled following her meal, she did get into the annals of psychology. Zeigarnik theorized that an incomplete task or unfinished business creates “psychic tension” within us. This tension acts as a motivator to drive us toward completing the task or finishing the business. In Gestalt terms, we are motivated to seek “closure…”

The implication is that people remember incomplete processes more more than those that are completed.

I’m no brain expert or psychologist, but I wonder if the waiter was simply storing those orders in short-term memory, and, having concluded they were no longer of importance, was not encoding them to longer-term memory (and just how many orders could a waiter remember, echoes of that “seven-digit” effect of short-term memory).

And I can also imagine this this effect might be served up by marketers as a bit of psychological juju to help sell their product: As opposed to a static billboard, whose message one would instantly absorb and then discard (as with one’s memory of traffic signs they’ve passed), some sort of narrative-in-progress might leave the driver/viewer hungry for a kind of resolution, “wanting more,” and thus dwelling more on the subject than they might have. But again, it’s hard to argue that the same stickiness that’s good for marketing would be good for driving.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 at 10:24 am and is filed under Traffic Culture, Traffic Gadgets, Traffic safety, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Warning: Zeignarnik Effect Ahead”

  1. Yokota Fritz Says:

    Anecdotally in the SF Bay Area, traffic always seems to back up when a message appears on the the traffic “Sig Alert” electronic signs over our freeways, e.g. this letter about Bike To Work Day signs in the Mr Roadshow column in the San Jose Mercury News.

  2. Kirk Voelcker Says:

    “As opposed to a static billboard, whose message one would instantly absorb and then discard (as with one’s memory of traffic signs they’ve passed), some sort of narrative-in-progress might leave the driver/viewer hungry for a kind of resolution, “wanting more,” and thus dwelling more on the subject than they might have.”

    I imagine the narrative-in-progress character of Burma Shave serial billboards might explain their successful inclusion in the history of the American automobile experience.

  3. dance Says:

    Multi-part riddles? Was someone smoking crack?

    Anecdotally from OR, PA, CA, VA, VT, NH, across the country 3 times, and up and down Northeast to Mid-Atlantic innumerable times: those state DOT electronic signs ABSOLUTELY back up and slow down traffic, sometimes just to say “Happy Holidays! No traffic problems ahead!”

  4. Jonathan Says:

    I only have anecdotal evidence, but I work in a building with a 2 story LED sign that overlooks the Massachusetts Turnpike. The first day it was turned on a traffic jam formed from the point where it is first visible, right up to where you can’t see it anymore. Since then traffic has flowed as regularly as it did before.

    Granted, as part of the agreement with the city, no text or overt advertisements are every displayed. And the content is inspiring images with very slow, subtle transitions.

Leave a Reply

Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Slashdot] [StumbleUpon] [Yahoo!]
Twitter
May 2009
M T W T F S S
« Apr   Jun »
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031