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Unexpected moments make people better thinkers

Imagine a wedding with the bride in a green dress, a groom in a purple tux, and a cake decorated with gears. It sounds strange, but it might make you a better thinker. In a series of experiments led by a DePaul University psychologist, half of participants were shown pictures of a traditional wedding (white dress, black tux, and tiered cake), and the other half were shown pictures of a non-traditional wedding (green, purple, and geared cake). After viewing the photos, both groups were asked to take a cognitive test. The researchers found that those who had viewed the traditional wedding made more errors than those who had viewed the non-traditional photos. Why is this? The researchers concluded that when our cultural expectations are not met, our brains shift from a low-level associative thought process to higher level, systematic thinking, thus making less errors on a cognitive test.

Culture sets up a blueprint for the way things should work, and when things work the way we expect, we don't have to think nearly as much. Researchers have found that "Cultural Fluency" can lead to buying more things, eating more, and preforming poorly on cognitive tests. "Cultural Disfluency" occurs when things do not meet our expectations.


In Brief. Monitor on Psychology December 2015

Gersema, Emily "Unexpected moments make people better thinkers, study finds." USC News. Web. 16 Oct 2015.

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