Absurdity and Meaninglessness Increase Learning

Nathan Heflick in Psychology Today (link) suggests how a violation of a persons schema may lead to a capacity for greater learning. A schema relates to a persons expectations, for example we expect a deck of cards to be read and black or water from the tap marked C to be cold. Our schema allows us to process a lot of information quickly without too much effort. If we were put in an enviroment where everything was unexpected we might find this unsettling and exhausting, but this would cause us to be more receptive to leaning as we struggle to come to terms with it.

Research shows that we are motivated to maintain our existing schemas. One such line of research is based on the meaning maintenance model (by Steven Heine, Travis Proulx and Kathleen Vohs). From this perspective, people’s need for things to make sense (to be meaningful, and consistent with their schemas/expectations) is so strong that when it is disrupted, people act with increased efforts to restore their “meaning frameworks.” – N.Heflick

Proulx and Heine experimented with this theory by submitting paticipants to a story by Kafka which starts off making sense but ends in a series of absurd statements. At the same time they were testing the participants receptivity to learning a new language.

Specifically, participants were exposed to a list of digits, and then were more likely to detect patterns in a made up grammar system when they had just read the absurd, meaninglessness story by Kafka. – N.Heflick

It seems to me that to use this creatively you would need to find a balance between the absurd and nonsensical and the information or ideas that you are trying to convey.



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