"Why ugly fonts and messy handwriting make it easier to remember what you've read"

hashiama's picture

Saw this article here today, here's an excerpt:

Texts in easy-to-read typefaces make it harder to recall information than if it is presented in less legible formats, research suggests

A study by Princeton University found that a significant number of those tested could recall more information when it was presented in unusual typefaces rarely used in textbooks.

The research suggests that introducing 'disfluency' - by making information superficially harder to understand - deepens the process of learning and encourages better retention.

The psychologists said information which has to be actively generated rather than 'passively acquired' from simple text is remembered longer and more accurately.

The study raises questions over how much fonts like Times New Roman and Arial, which are used in the majority of academic books, help readers revise for tests.


He said the study showed the whole history of typography was had missed the point when it comes to learning.

Mr Lehrer said: 'It has been a movement towards easy to read fonts. We assume that anything which makes it easier to see the content is a good thing.

Jonah Lehrer's take on it is here

The study, Fortune favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency
on educational outcomes can be read here.

Thoughts anyone? Did Emigre have exactly the right idea then after all, and are the rest of us really missing the point?

Perhaps there are holes and flaws in this study. One group's retention rate was tested with material set in Monotype Corsiva, Comic Sans Italicized and Haettenshweiler whilst the group being compared against in the study were reading material set mostly in Helvetica and Arial (legible?), could it just mean reading material in profusely overused typefaces bores the reader easier and allows for laziness.

dtw's picture

He said the study showed the whole history of typography was had missed the point when it comes to learning.

And proof-reading?

Vindication for anyone who wants to set their next academic journal in Curlz, I suppose...

BeauW's picture

the idea that Helvetica and Arial are 'legible' text book fonts is just flawed. That being said, I do see how such an effect is possible. When I needed to retain information for an exam, I would often read the text up-side-down, which slowed my reading and definitely helped me remember much better.

dtw's picture

Love it how the words "Bold" and "and the Italicised" are set as images instead of actual text, so that as far as the article metadata is concerned, its title is "Fortune favors the  (): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes"


timd's picture

You can hear Lehrer being interviewed, in a half-hearted breakfast show way, here.

russellm's picture


And signing here... or that another Leher?


hashiama's picture

Hey BeauW I can't tell if you're kidding..?

The novel value of a different typeface might have something to do with it? Could it be that even if they begin to set all educational material in Comic Sans Italic, eventually that'll become the same over and over and suddenly Helvetica is the one that stick in readers minds longer.

russellm's picture

I think it is pure tripe.

The novelty, perhaps has an effect, but it amounts to tying a new string around your finger for every new thing you want or need to remember. Pretty soon, it is a method that is worse than useless.

Next thing, my employer will learn that buying ergonomically well designed chairs for their staff was a mistake because someone somewhere will find that fewer people fall asleep in chairs that ruin their backs.

This emperor is stark naked.

Nick Shinn's picture

A great piece of research.

It will really soften academic publishers up to using learning-friendly Shinntype fonts such as Fontesque, which is available in an optically scaled version suitable for lengthy texts.

I wonder what typeface this research paper was set in, Papyrus or Comic Sans?

Té Rowan's picture

Probably Blackadder ITC.

William Berkson's picture

This sounds like a piece of bad research, if accurately reported, as the report doesn't mention any control for time. Of course, if you have to spend ten minutes deciphering a paragraph, reading it slowly and repeatedly, you are more likely to remember it.

The idea of high readability, at least for non-fiction, is that you can read quickly for meaning, and remember what *you* find valuable, not what is forced upon you by repetition from having to puzzle it out.

Also for extended text if it is really difficult to read, you are not likely to read it at all.

BeauW's picture

If you are thinking I'm kidding about not finding Helvetica a readable text face- having to read a whole textbook set in Helvetica really drove me nuts. I was continually having to re-read paragraphs because my brain insisted on seeing letters instead of words. The font is just too regular for extended text. I know a lot of designers disagree, but I really don't like to see more than one paragraph at a time set in Helvetica. Not that I'm against all sans settings. Just not Helvetica (and really not Univers).

(I'm also not kidding about turning my text books upside down.)

gerry_leonidas's picture

Good response by Paul Luna on the LUCiD blog: http://lucidity.ning.com/profiles/blogs/pretty-ugly

oldnick's picture

I read the article, but I don't remember a word of it; must be the legible font;)

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