Saturday, September 19, 2009


Stop Making Sense

An odd 'un in the Guardian about a new study in this month's Psychological Science:

Research from psychologists at the University of California in Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia claims to show that exposure to surrealism enhances the cognitive mechanisms which oversee implicit learning functions. The psychologists showed a group of subjects Kafka's story The Country Doctor, a disturbing and surreal tale... A second group were shown the same story, but rewritten so the plot made more sense. Both groups were then asked to complete an artificial grammar learning task which saw them exposed to hidden patterns in letter strings, and then asked to copy the strings and mark those which followed a similar pattern.

"People who read the nonsensical story... 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. Proulx said that the thinking behind the research was that when we are exposed to something which "fundamentally does not make sense", our brains will respond by "looking for some other kind of structure" within our environment.

Wiley's got the article behind a subscription wall, but happily, one of the study's researchers put up a pdf download of the article. So brace yourself for a chart:

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