Why Kafka Makes You Smarter

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"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic vermin." The first line of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis immediately launches readers into a surreal world where a man transforms into a bug and his family barely notices. Surrealist stories aren't just entertaining pursuits—reading Kafka or other dreamlike tales makes people better at performing cognitive tasks, according to a new study from researchers at University of California in Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia.

The psychology researchers showed a group of subjects The Country Doctor, a Kafka story about a doctor who travels to see an ill patient but ends up naked in bed with the patient before escaping the house sans clothes. Another group read a similar tale, which was rewritten to be logical. After reading, both groups completed a grammar exercise where they had to identify letter strings.

"People who read the nonsensical story checked off more letter strings—clearly they were motivated to find structure," Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB and co-author of the study, told the Guardian. "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."

Proulx theorizes that those who read the original Kafka story were better able to find patterns because their brains craved structure after reading something that was seemingly absurd. He also believes that people who are experiencing identity crises would search for structured patterns in life. [Image credit.]

September 23, 2009 - 5:44am
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