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In the storytelling engine room...

Although I haven't done graduate work in the social sciences, I've always been fascinated to learn about the different rituals with which people were raised. I'm weird: I love hearing people's dreams--no matter how seemingly mundane--and I love hearing the bedtime stories people's parents told them (or, I suppose, didn't).

My own father had a knack for always saying goodnight right after the first or second act of his long-running bedtime series, The Raccoons. It was kind of like Watership Down meets "Dynasty"--with a bit of Hardy Boys and The Secret of Nimh thrown in. I don't remember every plot point, but I know I was always rabid (ha) for more reports from the hardscrabble world of nocturnal vermin.

In my own adventures in babysitting, the kids always responded to different characters/themes, or commanded me to improvise on a saga their parents had begun. Most of these tales involved brave animals in unlucky ecological conditions, but a few involved well-intending mosquitoes, or ostracized appliances (think The Brave Little Toaster). Patterns were obvious, but what did they mean?

When parents/proxies craft these bildungsromans, do they do so with a specific intention? This is from Lawrence Shapiro's How To Raise a Child with a High EQ (which, honestly, is always the deal breaker, right?):

In his book The Competent Child, psychologist Joseph Strayhorn, Jr. teaches parents to make up what he calls "positive modeling stories" that address their child's real-life problems or concerns. In these stories, the protagonist, who has similar traits to the child, models realistic thinking and problem solving in her thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The protagonist may or may not be externally rewarded for exhibiting particular psychological skills, but she always rewards herself for being internally motivated.

Hmm. Did I learn to see myself as a raccoon? Actually, perhaps...Other people's garbage does have a certain hold over me, but I love dogs too much. If you'd like to perform an impromptu exegesis on your own childhood parables or the ones you now spin, I'm all yours...

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Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
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Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

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Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
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iStock

Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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