693: Moderately Hard

In 1999, Sung-il Kim – a professor at the Brain and Motivation Research Institute in Korea – ran a fascinating experiment.

He wanted to understand what made stories engaging.

He asked his subjects to read short stories (that he had prepared) and rate their engagement.

Here’s an example:

A newlywed bride had made clam chowder coup for dinner and was waiting for her husband to come home. Although she was not an experienced cook she had put everything into making the soup. Finally, her husband came home, sat down to dinner, and tried some of the soup. (He was totally unappreciative of her efforts and even lost his temper about how bad it tasted.) The poor woman swore she would never cook for her husband again.

You’ll notice that the penultimate sentence is in brackets… that shows us that Kim included it for some of his subjects, but excluded it for others.

Which version of the text would you say the test subjects found more interesting?

If you think it’s the full version, you’d be wrong.

Kim’s work was part of a cluster of studies that showed we pay more attention when we have to draw some inferences ourselves.

If the story is too easy – think preschool reading books, or too hard – think avant-garde cinema, we tend to check out.

Here’s where I’d normally tell you the takeaway … but maybe it’s better if I leave you to think about it.

Show notes at:


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