Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Reading Kafka Improves Learning, Suggests Psychology Study

Date:
September 16, 2009
Source:
University Of California, Santa Barbara
Summary:
Reading a book by Franz Kafka -- or watching a film by director David Lynch -- could make you smarter. According to research by psychologists, exposure to surrealism enhances the cognitive mechanisms that oversee implicit learning functions.

Reading a book by Franz Kafka –– or watching a film by director David Lynch –– could make you smarter.

According to research by psychologists at UC Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia, exposure to the surrealism in, say, Kafka's "The Country Doctor" or Lynch's "Blue Velvet" enhances the cognitive mechanisms that oversee implicit learning functions. The researchers' findings appear in an article published in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"The idea is that when you're exposed to a meaning threat –– something that fundamentally does not make sense –– your brain is going to respond by looking for some other kind of structure within your environment," said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB and co-author of the article. "And, it turns out, that structure can be completely unrelated to the meaning threat."

Meaning, according to Proulx, is an expected association within one's environment. Fire, for example, is associated with extreme heat, and putting your hand in a flame and finding it icy cold would constitute a threat to that meaning. "It would be very disturbing to you because it wouldn't make sense," he said.

As part of their research, Proulx and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and the article's second co-author, asked a group of subjects to read an abridged and slightly edited version of Kafka's "The Country Doctor," which involves a nonsensical –– and in some ways disturbing –– series of events. A second group read a different version of the same short story, one that had been rewritten so that the plot and literary elements made sense. The subjects were then asked to complete an artificial-grammar learning task in which they were exposed to hidden patterns in letter strings. They were asked to copy the individual letter strings and then to put a mark next to those that followed a similar pattern.

"People who read the nonsensical story checked off more letter strings –– clearly they were motivated to find structure," said Proulx. "But what's more important is that they were actually more accurate than those who read the more normal version of the story. They really did learn the pattern better than the other participants did."

In a second study, the same results were evident among people who were led to feel alienated about themselves as they considered how their past actions were often contradictory. "You get the same pattern of effects whether you're reading Kafka or experiencing a breakdown in your sense of identity," Proulx explained. "People feel uncomfortable when their expected associations are violated, and that creates an unconscious desire to make sense of their surroundings. That feeling of discomfort may come from a surreal story, or from contemplating their own contradictory behaviors, but either way, people want to get rid of it. So they're motivated to learn new patterns."

Thus far, the researchers have identified the beneficial effects of unusual experiences only in implicit pattern learning. It remains to be seen whether or not reading surreal literature would aid in the learning of studied material as well. "It's important to note that sitting down with a Kafka story before exam time probably wouldn't boost your performance on a test," said Proulx.

"What is critical here is that our participants were not expecting to encounter this bizarre story," he continued. "If you expect that you'll encounter something strange or out of the ordinary, you won't experience the same sense of alienation. You may be disturbed by it, but you won't show the same learning ability. The key to our study is that our participants were surprised by the series of unexpected events, and they had no way to make sense of them. Hence, they strived to make sense of something else."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of California, Santa Barbara. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of California, Santa Barbara. "Reading Kafka Improves Learning, Suggests Psychology Study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915174455.htm>.
University Of California, Santa Barbara. (2009, September 16). Reading Kafka Improves Learning, Suggests Psychology Study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915174455.htm
University Of California, Santa Barbara. "Reading Kafka Improves Learning, Suggests Psychology Study." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915174455.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins