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

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.

Link to the rest at Wired (December, 2018)

Alas, Sans Forgetica may be too good to be true.

From Science Daily:

It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people’s memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

The Sans Forgetica font has received much press coverage, after researchers in Australia claimed they had designed a new font that would boost memory by making information that appeared in the new font feel more difficult to read — and therefore remembered better.

The original team carried out a study on 400 students, and found that 57% remembered facts written in Sans Forgetica, whereas 50% remembered facts written in Arial.

But a team of scientist led by the University of Waikato, New Zealand, and involving the University of Warwick, has just published their new findings in the paper ‘Disfluent difficulties are not desirable difficulties: the (lack of) effect of Sans Forgetica on memory‘, in the journal Memory. After four experiments, they found no evidence of memory-boosting effects.

The four experiments included:

  1. Establishing the extent to which material written in Sans Forgetica feels difficult to process
  2. Comparing people’s memory for information displayed in Sans Forgetica and Arial
  3. Analysing the extent to which Sans Forgetica boosted people’s memory for information in educational text
  4. Testing people’s understanding of concepts presented in either Sans Forgetica or Arial.

Across the four experiments with 882 people, this scientific team found that in Experiment One, Sans Forgetica feels harder to read compared to Arial.

In Experiment Two, they found that when they showed people pairs of words in Sans Forgetica or Arial, people recalled fewer Sans Forgetica pairs than Arial pairs.

In Experiment Three, they found that when people were shown some educational information in Sans Forgetica and Arial, and were then tested on what they could recall of the information, there was no evidence that Sans Forgetica improved their performance.

Finally, in Experiment Four, they found that when testing people’s understanding of educational passages presented in Sans Forgetica or Arial, people had equal understanding of information presented in Sans Forgetica and Arial, and there was no proof that Sans Forgetica improved their understanding.

Link to the rest at Science Daily

Sans Forgetica?

Forget about it.

7 thoughts on “Can’t Remember What You Read? Blame the Font, Not Forgetfulness”

  1. In the days when I drove quite a bit around rural New Hampshire and Arizona, I’d see highway signs with this font quite frequently. Simple to make, just let loose an idiot with a few loads of birdshot…

      • Here:

        https://opendyslexic.org/

        It can be added to anything that uses TrueType fonts; computers, tablets, phones, individual software.

        ——–

        “OpenDyslexic is a typeface designed against some common symptoms of dyslexia. If you like the way you are able to read this page, and others, then this typeface is for you!

        OpenDyslexic is free to use: The newest version of OpenDyslexic now uses the SIL-OFL license, giving you freedom to use it for personal use, business use, education, commercial, books, ebook readers, applications, websites, and any other project or purpose you need.”

  2. There is even one for the Kindle, I believe.

    They are constructed to give a feeling of weight – slightly thicker on the bottom, for example – so that the brain keeps the letters in an orientation that’s easier to interpret. I’m sure there are other schemes.

    The rest of us don’t have a problem with letters being made of straight and curved segments that all have the same weight. We can tell what the orientation is.

Comments are closed.