Surrealism: Count on Kafka!
Reading Kafka 'enhances cognitive mechanisms', claims study
Subjects who had just read Kafka's The Country Doctor were better at recognising patterns in grammar test, psychologists found
Thursday 17 September 2009 14.59 BST
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 in which a doctor travels by "unearthly horses" to an ill patient, only to climb into bed naked with him and then escape through the window "naked, exposed to the frost of this most unhappy of ages".
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 checked off more letter strings - clearly they were motivated to find structure," said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB and co-author of the research, which appears in an article published in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science. "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.
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