As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."
So begins one of the most famous pieces of absurdist literature, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Kafka was a 20th Century German novelist, and his works are a staple of high school English classes everywhere.
But Kafka is good for more than just confounding precocious teenagers. According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, reading Kafka and other absurdist works could help make your brain better at spotting patterns. Here's what you need to know.
- The setup: Researchers gathered a group of Canadian undergrads and divided them into two groups. Both groups were given different short stories to read. The absurdist group read a Kafka story, The Country Doctor, while the normal group read a story called The Country Dentist, which had none of Kafka's absurdist panache.
- The test: After doing the reading, both groups were given a task to test how quickly they could learn new rules and pick up on novel patterns. Each subject was given a series of 9 letter strings (e.g. X M X R T V T M G). These strings conformed to certain rules (e.g. "the letter V must always be sandwiched between the two T's"), but participants had to decode these rules for themselves by examining the examples. Once they had looked at all the examples, both groups were then tested to see if they had successfully identified the patterns.
- The findings: Subjects who had read the absurdist story were 62% better at correctly identifying the patterns in the letter strings. If you want to improve your pattern recognition, read something brain bending!