von Restorff Effect

A phenomenon of memory in which noticeably different things are more likely to be recalled than common things.1

The von Restorff effect is the increased likelihood of remembering unique or distinctive events or objects versus those that are common. The von Restorff effect is primarily the result of the increased attention given to the distinctive items in a set, where a set may be a list of words, a number of objects, a sequence of events, or the names and faces of people. The von Restorff effect occurs when there is a difference in context (i.e., a stimulus is different from surrounding stimuli) or a difference in experience (i.e., a stimulus is different from experiences in memory).

Take advantage of the von Restorff effect by highlighting key elements in a presentation or design (e.g., bold text). If everything is highlighted, then nothing is highlighted, so apply the technique sparingly. Since recall for the middle items in a list or sequence is weaker than items at the beginning or end of a list, consider using the von Restorff effect to boost recall for the middle items. Unusual words, sentence constructions, and images are better remembered than their more typical counterparts, and should be considered to improve interactiveness and recall.

This distinctiveness may also come in the form of humor, in which case the humor effect occurs. Similarly, specific examples include the bizarreness effect and the serial position effect.2

See also cognitive biases and memory biases.

Examples

eat mor chikin billboard

The Chick-fil-A billboards use a combination of dimensionality and humor to attract attention and increase memorability. The billboards effectively command attention in visually noisy environments, clearly and intelligently promote the Chick-fil-A brand, and are quickly read and understood. As billboard design goes, it does not get much better.

Cadbury’s commercials seem incredibly random and without a point to most people. But it has been discussed that these adverts feed you with something completely (seemingly) irrelevant, and then flash you with their brand. Memorable, no?

  1. Also known as the isolation effect and novelty effect.
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Restorff_effect
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