Article

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

ABSTRACT

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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    • "Interestingly, other meaning threats besides death can trigger this reaction. Experiences with the " uncanny " (reading a passage of absurdist literature [Proulx, Heine, & Vohs, 2010], an experimenter unexpectedly " transmogrifying " into a different person [Proulx & Heine, 2008], or being exposed subliminally to incongruous word pairs [Randles, Proulx, & Heine, 2011]) led to increased punitive reactions to the social transgressor, suggesting that it restored a general sense of meaningfulness after meaning had been threatened. "
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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. "

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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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