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Von Restorff Effect

 

Explanations > Memory > Von Restorff Effect

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?

 

Description

We remember things that stand out.

Example

Try to remember this list (take a few seconds and then look away):

  • Jump
  • Cut
  • Run
  • Fly
  • Duck-billed platypus
  • Read
  • Build
  • Lay

The chance is that you will easily remember 'duck-billed platypus', because it stands out by being a noun, physically longer, italic and red. This is an extreme example, but it does highlight the effect. When the item in question stands out less, the likelihood of it being remembered also decreases.

Discussion

The Von Restorff effect was identified by Hedwig von Restorff in 1933. She conducted a set of memory experiments around isolated and distinctive items, concluding that an isolated item, in a list of otherwise similar items, would be better remembered than an item in the same relative position in a list where all items were similar.

There can also be a reverse effect here. You remember the unique item, but the attention that it grabs from you is removed from other items -- thus you may in fact remember less overall.

Hedwig's work relates to Gestalt, where she related it to the Figure and Ground principles.

Taylor & Fiske, (1978) indicated that attention is usually captured by salient, novel, surprising, or distinctive stimuli. These may be used to enhance the von Restorff effect.

In the 'attention age', when the plethora of media around us is constantly battling for a moment of our time, advertisers make much use of this principle, each vying with the other to stand out from the crowd and hence be remembered by the target audience.

The Von Restorff effect is also called the Isolation Effect or the Distinctiveness Principle (Nelson, 1979). The same principle has also been described as prominence effects (Gardner, 1983) environmental salience effects (Taylor & Fiske, 1978), and novel popout effect (Johnson, Hawley, Plewe, Elliott, & De Witt, 1990).

So what?

If you want people to remember something, make it stand out. You can be very creative in this.

See also

Contrast principle, Zeigarnik effect

Gardner, M. P. (1983). Advertising effects on attributes recalled and criteria used for brand evaluations. Journal of Consumer Research, 10, 310-318

Johnson, W. A., Hawley, K. J., Plewe, S. H., Elliott, J. M. G., & De Witt, M. J. (1990). Attention capture by novel stimuli. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 119, 397-411

Nelson. D. L. (1979). Remembering pictures and words: Appearance, significance and name. In L. S. Cermak & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Levels of processing in human memory (pp. 45-76). Hillside, NJ: Erlbau

Taylor, S. E., & Fiske, S. T. (1978). Salience, attention and attribution: Top of the head phenomena. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 11. pp. 249-288). New York: Academic Press

Von Restorff, H. (1933). Über die Wirkung von Bereichsbildungen im Spurenfeld (The effects of field formation in the trace field). Psychologie Forschung, 18, 299-34

 

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