“Easy Equals True”

17:40 Fri 05 Feb 2010
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Or so our brains are trained to believe, apparently:

[S]tudies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process—even totally nonsubstantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it—can alter people’s judgment of the truth of the statement, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author and their confidence in their own judgments and abilities.

If it’s easier to read and easier to remember, we think it’s more likely to be true.

That’s not so surprising, but the article points out that there are other implications—in particular, that if you want to get someone to think carefully about something, it might be best to present it in some difficult way:

Alter and Oppenheimer found that using a more difficult font can get students to do better on the Cognitive Reaction Test, a three-question test that usually trips up people answering intuitively. In another study, they found that disfluency also led people to think more abstractly. Schwarz and Song found that a difficult font can dramatically increase the number of people who correctly respond to the question, “How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?” (The answer is “none”—Moses wasn’t on the Ark.)

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