BBC News - Making things hard to read 'can boost learning'

pjk's picture

Searched the forum and didn't find a previous thread on this particular research paper.

BBC News - Making things hard to read 'can boost learning'

Makes sense. Though I don't think it will make the kids more eager to pick up the books.

blank's picture

This would only work until the students brain acclimated to reading whatever random font gets used in a particular book. Given how quickly some children learn I suspect that period would be short.

nina's picture

«For some types of learning "we need to slow the mind down"…»

I guess this makes sense.
I would love to know what the side-effects of the «Haettenschweiler, Monotype Corsiva, and Comic Sans Italicised» treatment are, though… I'd bet there's something like, «the students who participated now hate school». (Or aliens.)

oldnick's picture

If you're going to make 'em work, try using this...

http://new.myfonts.com/fonts/nicksfonts/escondido-nf/

russellm's picture

Who wouldn't forget something written in Arial?

quadibloc's picture

It is well known that Jewish children and children from CJK-influenced Asian backgrounds do well in school. I have felt that this is clearly a cultural matter - the bar mitzvah and the Imperial civil service examination have made book learning an expression of these groups' own culture, so, unlike the case of members of some other minorities that suffer discrimination, they aren't tempted to see book learning in terms of knuckling under to the dominant culture.

Since Hebrew - and even more so, Chinese - are "difficult" to read, I wonder if this was a misguided inspiration for this research.

But maybe we can "slow the mind down" by giving the children fun puzzles to solve, inside of which their lessons are hidden... to avoid the hating school problem. Or, better yet, video games!

colinmford's picture

If this were true, all the readers of Raygun in the 90s would be flippin' GENIUSES.

octoploid's picture

>If this were true, all the readers of Raygun in the 90s would be flippin' GENIUSES.

Ah, those were the days. I remember the multiple pages long Bryan Ferry interview set in Zapf Dingbats...

Renaissance Man's picture

Making things hard to read 'can boost learning'

That was an argument I read a long time ago for grunge fonts.

If you make a font hard to read, I often won't read the text. That goes for ads, newsletters, and some magazines.

vinceconnare's picture

Making everything hard to read to retain the knowledge just

http://www.comicsansit.com/

blank's picture

I’m gonna laugh my ass off if, in fifty years, I walk by a graveyard and see:
“V. Connare
Beloved by mankind for his great contribution to literacy: Comic Sans”

vinceconnare's picture

Just did the NPR/BBC World Service on Easy/Hard to read. Zuzana Licko I quoted what you read most etc. But agreed that making life difficult improves your memory.

quadibloc's picture

What you spend more time working on, you remember better. Rather than less readable typefaces, schools have been using one old trick for ages:

"Remember that you recall:

10% of what you hear,
20% of what you see,
50% of what you read, and
90% of what you do,

so DO all you can!"

which I remember seeing in a Naval personnel handbook for the Lithographer rating, although a Google search turned up a different source.

Schools already assign homework.

hrant's picture

> what you read most etc.

I guess some crap is just too juicy-looking for
people to be able to smell what it really is.

hhp

Renaissance Man's picture

"You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive." -MLK, Jr.

Not!

And the beatings will continue, until morale improves.

Vladimir Tamari's picture

This would only work until the students brain acclimated to reading whatever random font gets used in a particular book.

This probably what happened. I wonder how the text was presented - on screen or printed on paper. On screen and in black Arial would be more visible than a serif font in gray with a smaller x-height as was used in one of the samples.

vinceconnare's picture

The article say's 75% greyscale so we can assume on screen.

They also make the assumtion Arial is 'easy' to read which is debateable.

Also the words are called 'alien' words also in both cases hard to read.

vinceconnare's picture

The original Economist article:
http://www.economist.com/node/17248892?story_id=17248892&fsrc=rss

BBC New article on the Dr. Oppenheimer

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-11573666

"One group was given the lists in 16-point Arial pure black font (binary bitmaps?), which is generally regarded to be easy and clear to read.

An extract from the test used by Princeton University, showing lists of features about made-up aliens in Arial and Comic Sans MS fonts

The other had the same information presented in either 12-point Comic Sans MS 75% greyscale font or 12-point Bodoni MT 75% greyscale.(what kind of anti-aliasing was really used hinted? And isn't it 'easier' to read than binary?!)"

I like the bit about them being distracted by Monotype's Bodoni.

Dr. Oppenheimer
http://weblamp.princeton.edu/~psych/psychology/research/oppenheimer/inde...

Nick Shinn's picture

Perhaps the subjects are more bored with "Helvetica" than CS or Bodoni.
Or don't like being bullied by large type.
Or simply don't find text set in black, or in plain Arial, quite so memorable (that would be Occam's explanation).

So what is being measured here?
Nothing to do with difficulty or disfluency theory.
But when your measuring stick has only one calibration...

BTW, that isn't Arial in the sample on the BBC page, it's Myriad/Frutiger.

vinceconnare's picture

Video of Simon Garfield talking book type.

He called Albertus 'humanist' hmmmm ...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/video/2010/oct/17/typography?CMP=twt_gu

BeauW's picture

I used to read my textbooks upside down when I was studying for exams. I read faster than I could process, and couldn't slow down enough without throwing up some hurdle. Seems like the same idea.

vinceconnare's picture

Just My Type and I are now available as an iPhone app.

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/just-my-type/id398206052?mt=8

Sarcoma's picture

Perhaps the smaller text just had better line lengths

Nick Shinn's picture

One might deduce from this experiment that setting text in Arial makes it *harder* to read, if reading is defined as the entire process of extracting, processing, and storing meaning from visual text.

The way that this research defines reading is rather like the hand compositor in the movie Park Row (1952), who couldn't read, but was the fastest and most accurate at setting type. BTW, that movie has Ottmar Mergenthaler as one of the protagonists!

vinceconnare's picture

http://www.etsy.com/shop/justmytypeprints

Just My Type Prints by Jonathan Barnbrook, Steven Coles, Eiichi Kono, Margaret Calvert, Erik Spiekermann, Cyrus Highsmith

http://www.etsy.com/shop/justmytypeprints

joeclark's picture

At this point we need Kevlar to come out of hibernation, read the actual paper with his attendant expertise, and tell us what he thinks.

hrant's picture

The problem is not even Kevin has managed to break through to the Eldorado of readability testing: people not knowing they're being tested. Without that it's 99% water.

hhp

Kevin Larson's picture

I have read the Yauman, Oppenheimer, and Vaughn paper. The newspaper reports got the finding slightly wrong. It’s not actually possible to say that the font caused disfluency because they confounded font, size, and luminance contrast. In the first study they compared 16 point, 100% luminance contrast, Arial to 75% luminance contrast, 12 point, Comic Sans Italic and Bodoni. It’s not possible to say that the font was the source of the difference as it equally could have been the size or luminance contrast. That is only a problem with the newspaper account, and not with the Yauman et.al. paper itself.

I do think Yauman et.al. made a methodological mistake. They showed that there were higher memory recall rates for the 12 point, 75% contrast fonts, but didn’t do anything to show that those fonts were actually more disfluent. Had they performed some other sort of performance test, or even asked the participants to rate the fluency, there point would be more convincing. I would accept that reduced contrast lowers fluency, but am less confident about the size or font differences.

The big question here is that this is the exact opposite finding from the Song & Schwarz (2008) paper that we’ve discussed elsewhere. In that study people rated 12 point Arial as being more legible than 12 point Mistral and Brush Script, and it was shown that people judged that the tasks described in the text would be easier to complete when written in Arial. That study suggested that fluency is beneficial, but of course is a different task from a memory task. Song & Schwarz also had a memory task in their study, but didn’t find a difference on that measure.

I think the effect of fluency/disfluency is an interesting mystery.

Kevin Larson's picture

>The problem is not even Kevin has managed to break through to the Eldorado of readability testing: people not knowing they're being tested. Without that it's 99% water.

I don’t think people being aware of being tested changes the process of reading in any interesting way. If I’m interested in the muscles used for walking and running, and ask you to walk or run while I measure your muscles, could you use different muscles because you know you are being watched?

Similarly, if I’m interested in the brain activity that you use to control your body as you walk and run, I would expect to see a lot of activity in the part of the motor cortex that controls your legs. Even though you are aware of the test, there isn’t any other part of your brain that could suddenly take over controlling your legs just because you are being watched.

I would argue that the same is true for reading. You can know that you are being watched, but the brain doesn’t have multiple different mechanisms for reading that you can choose between.

Nick Shinn's picture

...could you use different muscles because you know you are being watched?

The pitchers in the World Series last night certainly did.
It's known as choking.

hrant's picture

Kevin, useful analysis - thank you.

> If I’m interested in the muscles used for walking and running, and
> ask you to walk or run while I measure your muscles, could you use
> different muscles because you know you are being watched?

Not necessarily different muscles, but I do believe the muscles would be used a bit differently. And the more subconscious the act is, the more the deviation. If a doctor asks you to "breathe normally", it's anything but. That's why whenever they can doctors engage you in idle banter while they're checking your vitals.

> the brain doesn’t have multiple different mechanisms
> for reading that you can choose between.

I guess it depends on how you define mechanism. I believe that any given act of reading is a hybrid between two very different strategies if not mechanisms; and one of the strategies (the slower, deliberative one) is heavily favored when the reader knows he's being measured. This difference is simply much harder to observe than muscle movements - but I believe it exists. Why? Not least because that makes sense; and the brain not taking advantage of information that's right in front of its eyes (well, to the side :-) makes no sense.

hhp

russellm's picture

@ Kevlar: ... The newspaper reports got the finding slightly wrong.

Wow. Has the ever happened before?

:o)

If I’m interested in the muscles used for walking and running, and ask you to walk or run while I measure your muscles, could you use different muscles because you know you are being watched?

I might use the same muscles differently. Perhaps by being either more or less clumsy that usual. I guess gauging the significance of my clumsiness, or lack thereof would be your call, but then, you wouldn't have any thing to gauge it against.

Renaissance Man's picture

The Funniest Signs At The Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear!

lorp's picture

I have also read the Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer and Vaughan paper. (Just email them and they’ll send you a copy, armchair pundits!)

I had the same reaction as Kevin did to the disfluency assumptions. It's particularly problematic in relation to Comic Sans. At least in the UK, Comic Sans has been used extremely widely in education for at least 10 years. Teachers I've nagged about the phenomenon (which, I have on good authority, is prescribed in teaching schools) attest to its ability to distinguish between, on the one hand, ‘personal’ material, prepared by that teacher for that class (just as handwritten & photocopied sheets were used in my day), and, on the other hand, material simply photocopied from books, generated from ‘official’ teaching materials, or cut & pasted from the web.

I therefore find it easy to hypothesize, undermining the assumptions of the article’s authors, that:

* today's students find Comic Sans very legible and ‘fluent’
* students engage better (since it pays off better) with material in which the teacher demonstrates a personal interest

I followed up with a request for samples of the actual test materials, but this was ignored.

lorp's picture

Speaking as a representative of MyFonts it’s great that, assuming all fonts become ‘fluent’ after a while, there are now academic grounds for replacing all your fonts with different ones every 6 months or so.

(BTW, what’s up with Typophile’s search? It took me too long to find this thread again. A search for ‘BBC’ didn’t return it even though it’s the first word of the title.)

Renaissance Man's picture

Search works about as well as everything else here.

At this site, I put BBC in my Google toolbar (actually Googlebar Lite, in FF), clicked on "Search this site", and this was the first entry that came up.

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