Incongruity



In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn references a 1949 paper by Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman titled “On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm”. It describes an experiment in the psychology of perception.

“Twenty-eight subjects, students at Harvard and Radcliffe, were shown successively by tachistoscopic exposure five different playing cards. From one to four of these cards were incongruous – color and suit were reversed.”

“Generally speaking, there appear to be four kinds of reaction to rapidly presented incongruities. The first of these we have called the dominance reaction. It consists, essentially, of a ‘perceptual denial’ of the incongruous elements in the stimulus pattern. Faced with a red six of spades, for example, a subject may report with considerable assurance, ‘the six of spades’ or the ‘six of hearts,’ depending upon whether he is color or form bound (vide infra). In the one case the form dominates and the color is assimilated to it; in the other the stimulus color dominates and form is assimilated to it. In both instances the perceptual resultant conforms with past expectations about the ‘normal’ nature of playing cards.”

“A second technique of dealing with incongruous stimuli we have called compromise. … Three examples of color compromise: (a) the red six of spades is reported as either the purple six of hearts or the purple six of spades; (b) the black four of hearts is reported as a ‘grayish’ four of spades; (c) the red six of clubs is seen as ‘the six of clubs illuminated by red light.’”

“A third reaction may be called disruption. A subject fails to achieve a perceptual organization at the level of coherence normally attained by him at a given exposure level. Disruption usually follows upon a period in which the subject has failed to resolve the stimulus in terms of his available perceptual expectations. He has failed to confirm any of his repertory of expectancies. Its expression tends to be somewhat bizarre: ‘I don’t know what the hell it is now, not even for sure whether it’s a playing card,’ said one frustrated subject after an exposure well above his normal threshold.”

“Finally, there is recognition of incongruity, the fourth, and viewed from the experimenter’s chair, most successful reaction.”