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Closure principle


Principles > Closure principle

Principle | How it works | So what



We seek closure as release from tension.

How it works

Closure is the resolution of tension

One of the characterizing factors about tension is that when we experience it, we will drive towards its resolution. When we are threatened, we will seek the closure of safety. When we are watching an exciting crime film, we find satisfaction in the closure of knowing 'who dunnit'.

In buying, looking at something I want builds the tension of wanting. Completing the purchase creates the pleasure of closure.

Even death can be a welcome closure, as  condemned people and the terminally ill well know.

Anticipation of closure creates pleasure

A pleasure of tension is in the anticipation of closure. A roller-coaster is a series of tensions as you clank up the slope, anticipating the drop the other side. As you reach the summit there is a relief at having reached the edge, followed instantly by 'will I survive' tension as you plummet over the edge, with closure of relief as you reach the other end safely.

When shopping, we thus enjoy the pleasure of anticipated completion of the purchase.

The closer the closure, the greater the tension

When closure seems a long way off, then tension is less. As closure approaches, tension increases exponentially. This can be seen in the excitement when a race is nearing conclusion or we are just about to find out who the murderer is in a detective story. This last-minute tension can be unbearable and cause us to take significant risks and raise the priority of reaching closure. It also explains why sales people are constantly pushing towards closure, making it seem as if we are just about to own the product on sale.

Any closure can help any tension

When someone makes me tense by shouting or disobeying me, there are more ways of resolving this tension other than direct interaction with them. Slamming the door helps. So does driving fast and chopping wood. It's almost like we create other tension and subsequent closure in order to try and snag the broader closure.

Closure fills in the gaps

Because in closure we get to completion, if there are any gaps left, our minds will helpfully fill them in, like connecting together a dotted line.

This is important for our everyday understanding and processing of the world around us. We very seldom get complete information so we need to fill in the gaps on a moment-by-moment basis. Our models help us do this by helping us guess what is in the gaps.

Closure often uses assumption. For example if we are buying a fridge and have a tension of not knowing if it will fit in the kitchen, we close this tension (and so decide to buy) by assuming that it will.

Closure closes the doors of the past

Closure is a literal event in more than one way. When we experience closure, we close the doors on the confusion of the past. Closed doors let you focus on the future. They let you decide quickly in the future. Closed doors are also hard to open again.

Two types of closure: aha and yes

Closure happens in two places during a person's thinking.

First, when you understand, and meaning is created, you close the doors on any further pondering of what your experience means. Legend has it that Archimedes, when asked to determine the value of the Syracuse king's crown, went for a bath to think. As he sunk into the waters, he noticed the water spilling over the edge of the bath and suddenly realized how use this to calculate the volume of the crown. This was the point of closure, the aha moment, the point of realization. He then ran down the street, naked, shouting 'Eureka' (I have found it).

Secondly, closure happens when you complete a decision, such as when you say 'yes' to the request from another person. Again, it closes off further cognitive effort and resolves associated tensions.

Closure is the brain's way of saying thank you

When you achieve closure, your brain gives you a nice squirt of natural opiates. This is its way of telling your that we are doing the right thing. You feel good, of course.

Closure can be addictive

Closure is so nice, we will even seek tension in order to experience the pleasure of closure. Children are naughty to get the closure of attention. Unhealthy habits from over-eating to excessive sunbathing are all driven by the search for closure. Once the habits are fixed, they automatically repeat themselves and can be difficult to stop.

A classic closure-seeking pattern is the drama triangle where, for example, one child experiences closure of persecution when they hurt a sibling, whilst the sibling feels closure of being rescued by a parent. The rescuer can also get closure in the rewards of moral superiority. Such behavioral games are played out endlessly in families, workplaces and public places.

Addicts find closure in using the needle, even when they are in a reasonable state of mind and they know how bad they are going to feel later.

Re-opening is uncomfortable

When we have closed on something, we feel very uncomfortable if somebody tries to re-open the situation, and we will often strongly resist such attempts. This pattern is typical of beliefs -- when we close on accepting a belief, we do not like having it challenged.

So what?

Closing is a sales speciality and nightmare, which highlights the problem for many -- after all the effort of persuasion, at some time you have to ask for the sale and risk the pain of rejection.

The trick in closing is to find the right time, when the person is sufficiently wound up that all you need to do is tip the scales and they fall easily into the closure of agreeing with you and buying what you are selling, whether it is a tractor or their salvation.

If you build tension in another person, they will seek closure. This is a core principle in persuasion.

See also

Need for completion, Prediction, Self-Completion Theory, Closing techniques

Theories about conforming

Theories about forecasting


Kruglanski, A. W., & Webster, D. M. (1996). Motivated closing of the mind: "Seizing" and "freezing." Psychological Review, 103(2), 263-283.

Van Hiel, A., Mervielde, I. (2003) The Need for closure and the Spontaneous Use of Complex and Simple Cognitive Structures. Journal of Social Psychology, 14, 559-568

Webster, D., Kruglanski, A. (1994) Individual differences in need for cognitive closure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1049-1062


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