When Is the Unfamiliar the Uncanny? Meaning Affirmation After Exposure to Absurdist Literature, Humor, and Art

Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Impact Factor: 2.52). 06/2010; 36(6):817-29. DOI: 10.1177/0146167210369896
Source: PubMed


The meaning maintenance model asserts that following a meaning threat, people will affirm any meaning frameworks that are available. Three experiments tested (a) whether people affirm alternative meaning frameworks after reading absurdist literature, (b) what role expectations play in determining whether absurdities are threatening, and (c) whether people have a heightened need for meaning following exposure to absurdist art. In Study 1, participants who read an absurd Kafka parable affirmed an alternative meaning framework more than did those who read a meaningful parable. In Study 2, participants who read an absurd Monty Python parody engaged in compensatory affirmation efforts only if they were led to expect a conventional story. In Study 3, participants who were exposed to absurdist art or reminders of their mortality, compared to participants exposed to representational or abstract art, reported higher scores on the Personal Need for Structure scale, suggesting that they experienced a heightened need for meaning.

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    • "Related to safety/security is the need for structure (or order), which has been given a prominent place in the literature. It is also a production need in the sense that agentic need satisfaction depends on having or creating " meaningful " situations—that is, situations with discernible structure (Neuberg and Newsom 1993; Proulx, Heine, and Vohs 2010). This need may actually be in the service of aiding predictability. "
    Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research., Edited by R. Wittek, T.A.B. Snijders, and V. Nee, 01/2013: chapter Social rationality, self-regulation and well-being: The regulatory significance of needs, goals, and the self: pages 72-112; Stanford: Stanford University Press.
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    • "This painting displays a rainbow on the beach. Previous research (Proulx et al., 2010) has established that viewing this absurd piece (compared to this representational piece) with the anticipation of having to describe its meaning increases participants' need for structure, which is considered to be indicative of threatened meaning (Proulx et al., 2010). Consistent with Proulx et al.'s procedure we followed this task with a mood measure to test if the art manipulation impacts affect (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule ; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988; positive affect: M 02.98, SD 0.81; negative affect: M 01.53; SD 0.57). "
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    ABSTRACT: In three experiments we tested whether nostalgia bolsters meaning in life relative to two other modes of autobiographical thought: imagining a desired future experience and recalling a positive past experience. In Experiment 1 participants thought about a nostalgic or desired future experience and then completed a presence of meaning scale. Thinking about a nostalgic (compared to desired future) experience increased perceived presence of meaning. In Experiment 2 we examined whether nostalgia can additionally reduce the search for meaning. Participants thought about a nostalgic, desired future or recent positive experience, and then completed a search for meaning scale. Nostalgia, relative to both comparison conditions, decreased the search for meaning. Finally we tested whether, by virtue of its capacity to increase meaning, nostalgia can mitigate threats to meaning. In Experiment 3 participants were exposed to either absurd or representational art, under the guise that they would later have to interpret its meaning, and then thought about either a nostalgic or a recent positive experience. Meaning was subsequently measured. The absurd art interpretation condition decreased the perceived presence of meaning but nostalgic reflection attenuated this effect.
    Memory 05/2012; 20(5):452-60. DOI:10.1080/09658211.2012.677452 · 2.09 Impact Factor
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    • "We have come across predictions in perception—in reward and fear processing and in cognitive schemata. In social and developmental psychology we encounter a long tradition of theorizing about cognitive schemata giving rise to expectations and about the general tendency to reduce dissonance (see, for example, Kagan 2002; Proulx et al 2010), which can also be reconceptualized in terms of predictions and errors. Although a rigorous comparison of these concepts still awaits to be done, we can discern a common theme in all of these studies. "
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    ABSTRACT: The predictive coding model is increasingly and fruitfully used to explain a wide range of findings in perception. Here we discuss the potential of this model in explaining the mechanisms underlying aesthetic experiences. Traditionally art appreciation has been associated with concepts such as harmony, perceptual fluency, and the so-called good Gestalt. We observe that more often than not great artworks blatantly violate these characteristics. Using the concept of prediction error from the predictive coding approach, we attempt to resolve this contradiction. We argue that artists often destroy predictions that they have first carefully built up in their viewers, and thus highlight the importance of negative affect in aesthetic experience. However, the viewer often succeeds in recovering the predictable pattern, sometimes on a different level. The ensuing rewarding effect is derived from this transition from a state of uncertainty to a state of increased predictability. We illustrate our account with several example paintings and with a discussion of art movements and individual differences in preference. On a more fundamental level, our theorizing leads us to consider the affective implications of prediction confirmation and violation. We compare our proposal to other influential theories on aesthetics and explore its advantages and limitations.
    i-Perception 12/2011; 2(9):1035-62. DOI:10.1068/i0466aap
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