Memory Retention Higher with Harder-to-Read Fonts

Published by: dallaseste on 22nd Oct 2010 | View all blogs by dallaseste

Memory Retention Higher with Harder-to-Read Fonts

Princeton University psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer, recently conducted a study that showed people have better retention of written information when it is harder to read.  The study was designed to show that people retain more of what they read when they are forced to focus harder.

Oppenheimer recruited 28 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40 and asked them to study written descriptions about three species of extraterrestrial aliens, focusing on seven particular features that varied between the species.  The task was designed to mirror a biology lesson in which students learned about various animal species.  Oppenheimer used aliens instead of existing species to prevent subjects from drawing on prior knowledge.

Half of the subjects were given the research material printed in hard-to-read fonts like Comic Sans MS and Bodoni MT, while the other half were asked to read the material in an easy-to-read Arial font, which studies have shown to be among the easiest to read.  Participants were given 90 seconds to absorb as much information as they could, then assigned about 15 minutes-worth of unrelated activities as a distraction, before being asked a series of questions about the aliens.

The subjects who read the information in the hard-to-read fonts answered questions correctly 86.5% of the time, while those given the information in Arial got the answers right 72.8% of the time.  To verify that the results would be similar in a classroom environment, Oppenheimer asked high-school teachers to use the techniques in chemistry, physics, English, and history lessons, and the teachers reported similar results.


Oppenheimer's study will be published in an upcoming edition of Cognition, an international journal that publishes theoretical and experimental papers on the study of the mind.

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