Friday, February 5, 2010

Keep It Cognitively Fluent, Stupid

How many people come up with the right answer to this question:

“How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?”

It can depend, it turns out, on the type font that the question was written in.

The answer should be “zero,” of course – it was Noah on the Ark, not Moses. If you ask the question in an unfamiliar, difficult type font, more people will get the right answer than if it’s asked in a familiar, friendly font. An unfamiliar font makes people more wary, and gets them to think more critically, than a familiar one; with an easy, common font, people read right over “Moses” and fall into the trap.

For problem-solving, unfamiliar is better; but for marketing, friendly and familiar presentations are more effective.

That lesson comes from recent research on “cognitive fluency” – which measures “how easy it is to think about something.” This item by Drake Bennett on shows how marketers and communicators can use this research to help sell their products, or their ideas.

In brief, the main lesson seems a cliché: keep it simple and easy. That builds trust and likability. But many of the specific findings are not so obvious:

- People invest more in companies that have names that are easy to pronounce.

- Repeated exposure to unfamiliar words and images – even geometric patterns and foreign ideographs – makes them more likable and trusted than on first exposure.

- Students score better on tests that are presented in unfamiliar fonts.

- People are more forthcoming and honest in responding to questions in familiar, easy fonts; they are more cautious and secretive when answering questions in strange, possibly hostile type fonts.

Even rhetorical flourishes like rhyming words can have an impact. More people agree that “woes unite foes” than “woes unite enemies” – because the rhyming makes the statement easier to remember, more natural and seemingly more accurate.

A final point: If you want to feel better about yourself, your job or your marriage, start making a long list not of the strengths, but of the shortcomings. You’ll need to read the full article to understand. But it’s worth it.

- Potomac Communications Group.

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