Teaching And The Von Restorff Effect

Do you and your lessons stand out?

The ‘Von Restorff’ effect is named after psychiatrist Hedwig von Restorff (1906–1962) which predicts that an item that “stands out like a sore thumb” is more likely to be remembered than other items.

This is a bias in favour of remembering the unusual and it is also called the isolation effect or the distinctiveness principle. Our ability to recall information increases when atypical items are presented within otherwise homogeneous sets.

In 1933 she conducted a set of memory experiments around isolated and distinctive items and concluded 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.

In other words, things that stand out from their peers are more memorable. For example, adapting Churches et al (2017)  show students a list of words first thing in the morning and then ask them at the end of the day what words they remember. No guesses for what they will say here!

  1. house
  2. window
  3. car
  4. door
  5. street
  6. Voldermort

Items can mean products, people and ideas and 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).

For example, Chick-fil-A (pronounce as fillet) is one of the largest American fast food restaurant chains and “Eat Mor Chikin” is their most prominent advertising slogan. It features Holstein dairy cows that are often seen wearing or holding signs that say  “Eat Mor Chikin” in all capital letters.

Image result for eat more chicken chick fil

Image result for eat more chicken chick fil

Image result for eat more chicken chick fil

They stand out and they make a statement.

Every lesson we teach has to have a stand out moment a la Chick-fil-A.

They have to be memorable as we do too. Children need drama, pirates and purple cows. Adding unexpected things to your lesson will make it stand out and be memorable.


von Restorff, H. (1933). Über die Wirkung von Bereichsbildungen im Spurenfeld [On the effect of sphere formations in the trace field]. Psychologische Forschung, 18, 299–342. doi:10.1007/BF02409636

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