When is the unfamiliar the uncanny? Meaning affirmation after exposure to absurdist literature, humor, and art

Travis Proulx, Steven J. Heine, Kathleen D. Vohs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

86 Scopus citations

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-829
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Volume36
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2010

Keywords

  • Meaning
  • Self

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