Tag Archives: gap theory

How PR Can Close Curiosity’s Gap

Why do we sit through painfully dull movies?

Subtract the following factors from your answer:

  • You are on a first date with someone who adores lengthy documentaries on banana slugs’ sleep patterns.
  • You are in a film class or doing research for a client, and either your grade or paycheck depends on a film review.
  • You are in bed sick with the flu, and the remote is in the other room.

We are left with a fairly simple answer: Not knowing the conclusion of a terrible movie is often more painful than sitting through it all together. Chip and Dan Heath describe this experience as “having an itch that we need to scratch” in their book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.” The itch (“gap theory” of curiosity) is examined in chapter two of the book.

Behavioral economist George Loewenstein explains that curiosity occurs when we feel a gap in our own knowledge. The reason we sit through a dull movie is because we want to find out what happens.

To close gaps we need to open them first. Normally, PR practitioners start any communication effort by providing the facts. However, receivers of the information must first realize they need the facts. According to Loewenstein, receivers respond the most when they recognize a gap in their knowledge before learning the facts. Practitioners can simply pose a question, draw attention to someone who knows the answer, present situations with unknown conclusions (e.g., elections) or challenge a prediction.

The process of opening knowledge gaps can be seen everywhere. Televised news segments lure viewers in with, “How do you protect yourself against car theft?” and magazine headlines tease readers with such statements as, “This doctor knows how to beat holiday weight gain.”

Once a knowledge gap has been opened, it can be closed just as quickly with the facts. A teaser here and there can encourage receivers to participate in the communication process.

Open the gap: Why do we sit through a painfully dull movie about banana slugs’ sleeping patterns?

Close the gap: Because not knowing how and why they sleep is more painful than sitting through it.

(Information provided in this blog post is from “Unexpected,” chapter two of “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. Image provided by David Phillips’ blog “Ahem: Oh, I was just saying…”)

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