It’s Not Just What You Say

Jeff Galak and Leif D. Nelson will publish an abnormally interesting paper, “The Virtues of Opaque Prose: How Lay Beliefs about Fluency Influence Perceptions of Quality,” in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. They preformed three experiments that manipulated fonts and facial expressions to determine how college students evaluate written material.
In one experiment, they divided student subjects into four groups. Each group was asked to read Mark Twain’s “The Danger of Lying in Bed.” Half the students read the story in a standard Times New Roman, 12pt, font. The other half read the story in a 1.5 condensed Times New Roman, 12pt, font. Not surprisingly, the students judged the standard font much easier to read than the condensed font. The authors refer to the standard font as “fluent” or “good font” and the condensed font as “disfluent” or “bad font”
Each group was further divided into “Historical Analysis Study” and “Short Story” groups. The “Historical Analysis Study” subgroups were asked to numerically evaluate the quality of the story as to how it fit the period in which it was written. The “Short Story” subgroups were asked how much they enjoyed it as a short story. Here’s the results as expressed in Galak and Nelson’s figure 1.

And here is what they said about those results,

As can be seen in Figure 1, participants in the “Short Story Study” found the story to be of higher quality when it was presented in a fluent font, (F(1, 54) = 7.41, p = .009). In contrast, participants in the “Historical Analysis Study” found the story to be of higher quality when it was presented in a disfluent font, (F(1, 54) = 4.19, p = .046). Participants preferred the “short story” when written in a fluent font, they preferred the “historical analysis” when written in a disfluent font.

I’m not competent to evaluate a study like this but I may start writing this blog in an condensed font. Maybe some of you will take it more seriously. Happy Face
Via Kevin Mac Donnell on the Mark Twain Forum

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