The von Restorff Effect

Hello everybody! Let’s start this post with this image; have a rapid look at it.


As you may understand, today I have encountered the isolation paradigm on my path, which refers to a distinctive feature of an item, that is in a list and differs from the others by way of dimension.

Let’s start to analyze this from its basic concepts:

  1. The distinctiveness of the isolation paradigm leading to the von Restorff effect (studied firstly by German psychiatrist and pediatrician Hedwig von Restorff), can be generated from changing the meaningfulness or physical nature of the stimulus in some way, such as in size, shape, color, spacing, and underlining.
  2. When you had a look on the image above the von Restorff effect was just working. Everyone of you had noticed the red tomato. It is brighter and different from the other tomatoes that it becomes easy to notice and remember.
  3. This principle is working also in our daily life: people, living beings and objects that stand out “differently” about their peers are more memorable.
  4. They have an impact effect on us because the more colorful and “extreme” the difference is, the better its “charme“works.

This cognitive bias was described in 1933 by von Restorff, when an item in a list of otherwise similar items is easier to remember than any other item in the list.

Actually the interpretation of isolation can cover many analytical cases of sciences and be taken broadly; such as physical isolation, isolation by color or shape, isolation by size, etc.

This is a very powerful communication principle that every scientist should have knowledge of. Not very consciously about this principle, we use it all the time in our communications exploits to public or specific kinds of audience. But  It is only when you start to use it intentionally and following its principles that you’ll collect rewards.

We’ve all seen introductions where a scientist introduces “the main object” of the study. Typically, the scientist shows to audience too much. I imagine that everyone of you have experience this attitude to present lots of unnecessary annotation and cross-talk between other pathways… Maybe the author try to change the tone of the voice in order to pick up the his/her public attention. But sometimes this is not enough.

People should have the help of vision techniques (such as Power point presentation) in order to maintain up their attention and focus. I’m pretty sure you can have in mind some occasion when this phenomena occurred…

The main reason why you see this happening – mostly all the time – is that scientists like to be complete. They like to present all the elements involved and don’t leave anything out. Every element is important. And it is… but not for every story.  To communicate a research or divulgative idea about the topic chosen, people should focus on the main and first thing that makes this research or argumentation impressive.

As Albert Einstein said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

So, resuming the main point…

To let people understanding and take “cognitively” part in your argumentation you should highlights the main point of the discussion or presentation. Just doing this – apparently – simply action, you let the rest of your pathway be pictured in shades of grey.

You can avoid bias on communication, just stripping the pathway to the bare minimum and only show the “links” that are important to understand the remainder of your story.

Your audience will be engaged and they will remember more of what you had to say.

So enjoy this lecture , and next time you’ll have a public speaking think on how use the Restorff effect effectively.


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