Typography, Pronunciation and Cognitive Fluency

How easy some­thing is to read and under­stand sig­ni­fic­antly affects how we per­ceive it in terms of its risk, beauty, dif­fi­culty, cred­ib­il­ity and truth­ful­ness. Factors that influ­ence this cog­nit­ive flu­ency include typo­graphy (typeface choice, con­trast, etc.), ease of pro­nun­ci­ation, famili­ar­ity and how much the words rhyme.

The cov­er story of this month’s The Psy­cho­lo­gist is an extens­ive study of this phe­nomen­on, look­ing at how cog­nit­ive flu­ency affects our judge­ments and per­cep­tions.

This excerpt illus­trates the effect, whereby a set of phys­ic­al exer­cises designed to be incor­por­ated in your daily routine were described (emphas­is mine):

When they were presen­ted in an easy-to-read print font (Arial), read­ers assumed that the exer­cise would take 8.2 minutes to com­plete; but when they were presen­ted in a dif­fi­cult-to-read print font, read­ers assumed it would take nearly twice as long, a full 15.1 minutes. They also thought that the exer­cise would flow quite nat­ur­ally when the font was easy to read, but feared that it would drag on when it was dif­fi­cult to read. Giv­en these impres­sions, they were more will­ing to incor­por­ate the exer­cise into their daily routine when it was presen­ted in an easy-to-read font. Quite clearly, people mis­read the dif­fi­culty of read­ing the exer­cise instruc­tions as indic­at­ive of the dif­fi­culty involved in doing the exer­cise. If we want people to adopt a new beha­viour, it is there­fore import­ant that instruc­tions are not only semantic­ally clear and easy to fol­low, but also visu­ally easy to read – or else the beha­viour may seem unduly demand­ing.

Oth­er find­ings from the vari­ous stud­ies men­tioned in the art­icle:

  • When a recipe is presen­ted in an eleg­ant but dif­fi­cult-to-read font, it is assumed that it requires more time and more skill than when presen­ted in an easy-to-read font. (The authors con­clude that res­taur­ants should describe dishes in dif­fi­cult-to-read fonts. They do.)
  • Print fonts influ­ence wheth­er people make decisions or defer them to a later time.
  • Food addit­ives with com­plex, dif­fi­cult-to-pro­nounce names are per­ceived as more risky.
  • Amuse­ment park rides were classed as more dan­ger­ous if they had com­plex, dif­fi­cult-to-pro­nounce names.
  • A stat­ist­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber of stocks with easy-to-pro­nounce tick­ers sym­bols had high­er yields than those with dif­fi­cult-to-pro­nounce tick­er sym­bols.