CogniFit's Science blog: Surrealism For Sharper Thinking

Surrealism For Sharper Thinking

Psychologists at the University of California in Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia have shown that when subjects are exposed to surrealistic stories the cognitive mechanisms involved in learning are enhanced. Subjects were exposed to Franz Kafka’s story “the Country Doctor,” described as a “disturbing and surreal tale.”

A second group of subjects were shown a different version of the story that was rewritten to make more sense. Both groups were then asked to complete an artificial grammar learning task which exposed them to hidden patterns in letter strings and they had to find similar patterns.

The group who heard the surrealistic, original version was able to find more letter strings than the group that heard the more rational version and were able to do it more accurately than the “rational” group. The “surreal” subjects actually learned the pattern better than the other group.

The scientists believe that when our brains are exposed to something that does not make sense, the brain works harder to find some kind of structure that does make sense.

A second test, that made people feel alienated about themselves and considered how their past actions were often contradictory, also produced the same results.

When people are made to feel uncomfortable and when their perception of what is normal is challenged, an unconscious desire to make sense of the surroundings is created.

The effect would not work if people expected to feel alienated; there must be the element of surprise, so that they cannot make sense of things.