How To Get People To Do Stuff: #3 — A Hard-To-Read Font Will Activate Logical Thinking

I am taking a chance here, because I know that the subject of fonts is always controversial, and if I say that you should use fonts that are hard to read I’ll be blasted by many of my readers! But I have to share this fascinating research on how mental processing changes in some surprising ways when people read text that is in a hard to read font vs. an easy to read font. Below is the video.

For more information check out:

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast And Slow

and my new book (when it comes out in March 2013 — available for pre-order now at Amazon) How To Get People To Do Stuff

In a previous video on confirmation bias I talk about Daniel Kahneman’s idea of System 1 (quick, intuitive) thinking vs. System 2 thinking (slow, logical, analytical). Kahneman’s research shows that when a font is easy to read then System 1 thinking does its usual thing — makes quick decisions, which are not always accurate. When a font is harder to read, System 1 gives up and System 2 takes over. Which means that people will think harder and more analytically when a font is hard to read. I’m NOT suggesting you intentionally make fonts hard to read in the text you have at websites and in other places, but these findings do make me pause and think about whether we are all inadvertently or purposely encouraging people not to think about what they are reading.

Ok, let’s hear it! I know you will all want to weigh in on this one!

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in brain, decision-making, fonts, psychology, research, visual design
7 comments on “How To Get People To Do Stuff: #3 — A Hard-To-Read Font Will Activate Logical Thinking
  1. Erin says:

    Very interesting video! Thank you for sharing this information. As web designer who LOVES typography, it’s important for me to understand how our brains work, even if it collides with my personal taste and traditional beliefs/education on the matter.

  2. naomi says:

    Fascinating… What strikes me is how this dovetails with niche strategy in SEO and content development.
    Narrowing your target audience / message increases conversions because the people you are connecting with are already warm.
    Depending on the purpose, of course, I’m thinking that by making readers work a little harder reading the font, there would be a similarly beneficial ‘narrowing down’ of people who are literally and metaphorically willing to make the effort.

  3. Safalta says:

    Maybe the participants in test read hard to read text more carefully because they “had to” read it. Would that happen if they would surfing that site just for fun?

  4. Mark says:

    But how would that difficulty effect users’ opinions of the site or survey. They may get the answers right, but never want to use it again…

    • Mark says:

      But how would that difficulty effect users’ opinions of the site or survey? They may get the answers right, but never want to use it again…

  5. michele says:

    I’ve heard this before, and it is interesting. I’m right trying to fill up on facts about reading (on and offline) and I’m wondering how the idea that the internet is effecting our cognition factors into this particular equation. As I understand it, the current challenge isn’t as lofty as retention. Getting people to get past a superficial skimming and scanning seems to be the trick. And taken one step further, how keep does this skimming and scanning even go? But are there elements of this forced focus trick than can be translated into something more wieldly. I’m focused on the notion of the design of the page content itself can be manipulated to better engage this cognitive state.

  6. This might explain the advertising maxim to always use large, easy to read fonts. You don’t want your customer to have to think too much. You only want them to spend their money….with you.
    This is something I have always sensed but couldn’t articulate. Thanks for this!

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Welcome to The Brain Lady Blog

I'm a Ph.D. psychologist and I write and videoblog about how to apply psychology and brain science research to understand how people think, work, and behave. For more information about me and about the Weinschenk Institute, check out the the Team W website.

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
The "Brain Lady"

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