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Psychol Sci. 2009 Sep;20(9):1125-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02414.x. Epub 2009 Jul 28.

Connections from Kafka: exposure to meaning threats improves implicit learning of an artificial grammar.

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University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


In the current studies, we tested the prediction that learning of novel patterns of association would be enhanced in response to unrelated meaning threats. This prediction derives from the meaning-maintenance model, which hypothesizes that meaning-maintenance efforts may recruit patterns of association unrelated to the original meaning threat. Compared with participants in control conditions, participants exposed to either of two unrelated meaning threats (i.e., reading an absurd short story by Franz Kafka or arguing against one's own self-unity) demonstrated both a heightened motivation to perceive the presence of patterns within letter strings and enhanced learning of a novel pattern actually embedded within letter strings (artificial-grammar learning task). These results suggest that the cognitive mechanisms responsible for implicitly learning patterns are enhanced by the presence of a meaning threat.

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