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'Kokology' plays self-discovery games with your brain
NEW YORK (CNN) -- As the year dips into its annual holiday shopping frenzy, impulse-purchase books abound. Retailers begin utilizing all available counter space nearest the cashiers, placing all manner of low-priced items ranging from postcard books and miniature volumes of poetry to collections of humor, puzzles, and parlor games.
One such example is "Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery" (Fireside), the brainchild of Isamu Saito, a psychology professor at Rissho University in Japan, and Tadahiko Nagao, head of the "Kokology Project" team, a multinational effort with over a dozen members.
"Kokology," which the authors deem "A popular term for the interpretation of the hidden meanings of human behavior and situational responses," is derived from the Japanese word "kokoro," which may be translated as "mind," "spirit," or "feelings."
"For many people, the words 'psychological test' evoke a dark and frightening image," Prof. Saito writes in his introduction. "I'm a psychologist myself, and even I don't like to take them. But psychological games make the same process of discovery interesting and fun, and people feel less threatened when they view the experience as a form of play."
It must have worked in Japan: "Kokology" has sold more than 4 million copies there, and was also a variety show.
So, just what is "Kokology"? It's as much parlor game as psychological game, a series of lighthearted queries designed to reveal a player's innermost views on particular subjects, as filtered through the medium of riddles.
Take this one: "You've set off to climb a mountain, in search of a fabulously rare stone. What is your impression of the mountain as you stand at its foot?"
If you believe Kokology, the mountain is your father, or a father figure in your life. See the mountain as difficult and unforgiving, and that's your cold, distant father. See it as a magnificent, welcoming peak, and you have an encouraging, loving dad. The stone, incidentally, is your undiscovered talent or strength. If you give up looking for the stone, you may be the type that never achieves your potential. And if the stone is a worthless rock, well ...
Other conundrums are somewhat racier, bringing up the parlor-game aspect of the book. In one puzzle dubbed "The Stolen Berries," you're asked what you would do if you saw a fenced-off field of berries (what does the fence look like? How many berries would be eaten?). Berries turn out to be a symbol of sexual attraction and desire, and the puzzle measures attitudes towards forbidden love. No record of what your attitude is if you just don't like berries.
Of course, "Kokology" isn't meant to be confused with psychotherapy, or even a Meyers-Briggs test. Even the book's press materials call it "a worldwide fad about to take off" and "as satisfying as astrology or tarot."
Its conclusions are open to debate. Monika Bravo, a New York-based video artist who plays with themes of reality and illusion, tried the game and emerged skeptical of the whole thing.
"An imaginary reaction in an imaginary situation leads one to an imaginary answer," she said. "The creativity used ranges from references (to) Jungian archetypes to linking a roller coaster ride to your sexual excitement. Unfortunately I can't favor at least one situation."
Professionals in the field would seem to agree with Bravo's assessment. The Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies in New York City, which reviews new titles in the field, declined to comment on the book, deeming it unworthy of inquiry.
But Bravo isn't against "Kokology"-like exercises. "If I have a choice I'll stick to the quizzes one can find in monthly magazines at the grocery store. How many of us haven't picked up one of those quizzes and gone skeptically through the questionnaire and answers, at times having a good laugh?"
Well, there's that. As Prof. Saito writes, "I hope you've learned something about yourself and others in your life when you're done." At the very least, a moment of chuckling, standing in the checkout line with your bookstore purchases.
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Fireside (Simon & Schuster)
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