Teacher journal archive (2008-2011)

Article Title



New research suggests that the more we are exposed to nonsense, such as the absurdist literature of Franz Kafka, the more we are stimulated to learn. The default setting in our brain is to find meaning in something, so if a work of literature or similar seems strange on the surface our brains gear up to dig deeper and discover the underlying design. The article quotes from several researchers who have investigated this phenomenon as it applies to education and learning. Piaget described this tendency to impose pattern or order as the urge to reduce disequilibrium; Leon Festinger has referred to 'cognitive dissonance', while Aaron Antonovsky described it as need for coherence. For Travis Proulx and Steven Heine it is all about 'meaning maintenance'. They tested this concept in 'Connections from Kafka: Exposure to meaning threats improves implicit learning of an artificial grammar'. They tested the prediction that learning of novel patterns of association would be enhanced in response to unrelated meaning threats. Compared with participants in control conditions, participants exposed to meaning threats demonstrated a heightened motivation to perceive patterns. The researchers concluded that the cognitive mechanisms responsible for implicitly learning patterns are enhanced by the presence of a meaning threat. Put otherwise, the ability of study participants to make sense of something was stimulated when they were faced with nonsense. [Author abstract, ed]

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