The Surreal Makes You Smarter


Allison Flood at the Guardian has dug up an article from  the journal Psychological Science showing that reading surrealism may actually make people smarter.

In the study, some subjects were given Kafka’s “A Country Doctor,” and others were given a rewrite of that story that “made more sense.” Those who read Kafka did better in the test researchers gave afterwards, a test that asked people to find patterns in strings of letters.

Researcher Travis Proulx said, “People who read the nonsensical story checked off more letter strings – clearly they were motivated to find structure. … But what’s more important is that they were actually more accurate than those who read the more normal version of the story.” Why, you ask?

“Proulx said that the thinking behind the research was that when we are exposed to something which “fundamentally does not make sense”, our brains will respond by “looking for some other kind of structure” within our environment. A second test got the same results by making people feel alienated about themselves as they considered how their past actions were often contradictory.”

I’m not entirely sure why, but for some reason, this makes me feel much better about the way my mind works. Thanks, researchers!

Seth Fischer’s writing has twice been listed as notable in The Best American Essays and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by several publications, including Guernica. He was the founding Sunday editor at The Rumpus and is the current nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He is a Dornsife PhD Fellow at USC and been awarded fellowships and residencies by Ucross, Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ragdale, and elsewhere, and he teaches at the UCLA-Extension Writer’s Program and Antioch University, where he received his MFA. More from this author →