Home » Books in General » Can’t Remember What You Read? Blame the Font, Not Forgetfulness

Can’t Remember What You Read? Blame the Font, Not Forgetfulness

15 January 2019

From Wired:

Remember all those classics you devoured in comp-lit class? Neither do we. Research shows that we retain an embarrassingly small sliver of what we read. In an effort to help college students boost that percentage, a team made up of a designer, a psychologist, and a behavioral economist at Australia’s RMIT University recently introduced a new typeface, Sans Forgetica, that uses clever tricks to lodge information in your brain. The font-makers drew on the psychological theory of “desirable difficulty”—that is, we learn better when we actively overcome an obstruction. (It’s why flash cards create stronger neural connections in the brain and are a better method for recalling facts than passively studying notes.) Sans Forgetica is purposefully hard to decipher, forcing the reader to focus. One study found that students recalled 57 percent of what they read in Sans Forgetica, compared with 50 percent of the material in Arial, a significant difference. No word yet on the retention rate of Comic Sans.

. . . .

When presented with incomplete visual information, like the random gaps in Sans Forgetica’s characters, our brain fills in the missing bits. “They pique your attention and slow down the reading process,” says Stephen Banham, one of the font’s developers.

. . . .

Your brain isn’t used to seeing sentences tilt to the left—it’s a typographic faux pas. It takes you a split second longer to recognize words in Sans Forgetica’s 8-degree back-slant, triggering deeper cognitive processing.

Link to the rest at Wired

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Books in General

14 Comments to “Can’t Remember What You Read? Blame the Font, Not Forgetfulness”

  1. What happens when you get used to the font?

    Dan

    Or did the OP answer that question and I didn’t retain it.

    • Supposedly, you don’t, but I wonder if anyone has converted everything they read into that font for a month to check.

  2. Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

    A designer, a psychologist, and a behavioral economist all walk into a bar and …

    “They pique your attention and slow down the reading process,”

    Or they make you skip past because you can’t be bothered with trying to decyper their crap.

    Fun fact: if ‘I’ think something ‘font’ed like crap might be worth reading I cut/paste it into a word processor and change the font to something I can read.

    MYMV and you realize that annoying the reader is counterproductive …

    • I have undoubtedly forgotten most of what I “learned” in college – because at least 50% of it was false, and most of the rest was irrelevant to real life.

      If it had all been in this font, however, I can guarantee that I would not have even a scintilla left of it. Probably forget that I ever went (that has a nice, neat psychological term, called “suppression of bad memories”).

  3. So what they’re telling me is that I should set my default font in my browser to something totally forgettable, set it not to allow websites to use their own fonts, and save myself from many GB of memories I probably don’t need anyway?

    I’m on board with that. Now I need to figure out which font is truly the most forgettable.

    Probably something like Open Sans or Segoe UI. They’re very easy to read even at really small font sizes. No struggle there.

    I did download the font to check it out. Couldn’t help myself. There’s an interesting PDF included with the font download talking about the design.

    Maybe I’ll try it for writing, so I’ll remember what happened in chapter 3 when writing chapter 21!

    • I actually did try this.

      This is one of those “don’t try this at home” things. It was unpleasant to put it nicely. There is no way I could ever write using that font. As for reading anything in it, yeah, they can keep their 7%. No way.

  4. “The font-makers drew on the psychological theory of “desirable difficulty”—that is, we learn better when we actively overcome an obstruction. (It’s why flash cards create stronger neural connections in the brain and are a better method for recalling facts than passively studying notes.)”

    Really?
    Hmm, I wonder where else in life overcoming obstructions is a positive… 😉

  5. About ten years ago, a similar meme pulsed through marketing departments. Whitepapers printed in grey instead of black characters were supposed to be more memorable because they were more difficult to read. Everyone I knew hated it, but marketing had the templates for all company communications locked in their greasy fingers. No exceptions, no arguments. Cross marketing and get a nastygram from HR.

    Lasted about three months as I recall. One day, all the sites and templates changed with no explanation.

  6. Sounds like a great plan to reduce reading. Advocates can put on their sandpaper boxers and sit out in the cold rain with unpunctuated literary fiction about depressed college professors to really jog the memory.

  7. Anyone remember the sitcom, “Better Off Ted”? The pilot had the big corporation designing a new office chair that encouraged productivity by being uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable the bigger the increase in productivity…

    …up to a point where they just go mad.

    • Fondly remembered.
      Last sitcom I bothered with, actually.
      Earlier episodes were the best. Especially the corporate ads.

  8. An easier test would be whether readers retain handwritten text better than printed text. I don’t, so I doubt their premise, and I would not be surprised to see other researchers have great difficulty replicating their results.

    • I agree with Anthea. This would need replication studies to prove what in most likelihood is a one-off result. Given how hard replication studies are, and the paucity of research that can be replicated you can colour me skeptical.

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