Course: PSYC 122: Introduction to Psychology 2
On The Accuracy of Retained Information: Fluent and Disfluent Fonts
Name: Jia Ni Chai
Tutor: Fiona Hart
Lab: Tuesday, 12:00pm-1.50pm, EA 404A
This study was conducted to investigate the effect of font presentation (independent variable) on the accuracy of memory (dependent variable). Three-hundred seventy-eight undergraduate students answered questions on a written survey after reading about a fictional creature in one of three font conditions. Results showed better memory for hard-to-read fonts compared to easy-to-read fonts and that there is no significant difference between memory for inverted fonts compared to easy-to-read fonts. This suggests that hard-to-read fonts are remembered better, most likely as a result of deeper processing.
On The Accuracy of Retained Information: Fluent and Disfluent Fonts
There have been multiple studies investigating the effects of fluency and disfluency on the accuracy of retained information, especially in regards to font conditions. Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, & Vaughan (2010) defined disfluency as the experience of personally going through the difficulty resulted from mental processes, while fluency is defined as experiencing the ease of a cognitive process (Sungkhasettee, Friedman, & Castel, 2011). It is interesting because it may potentially aid in long-term memory improvement for people of all ages and conserve time spent revising materials again and again.
Carpenter, Wilford, Kornell, & Mullaney (2013) investigated whether students’ perception of learning and actual learning differed in relation to lecture fluency. Two experiments were conducted, both of which involved two videos respectively showing a fluent and disfluent speaker. Both experiments tested the memory of participants after the completion of a 10-minute distractor task. The first experiment explored the effect of lecture fluency on actual learning, whereas experiment two investigated the time period in which students studied based on lecture fluency. A positive correlation was found between reading time and later memory accuracy for only those who viewed the disfluent speaker. Carpenter et al. concluded that lecture fluency did not affect actual memory performance.
An aspect of Sungkhasettee et al. (2011) explored whether recall for less fluent words were better. Two experiments comprising of upright and inverted words were carried out, where participants made judgement of learning (JOL) after reading aloud each word. Experiment one had participants complete a 2-minute verbal recall test after a 1 minute distractor task, while experiment two used a similar process with three study-test cycles to observe whether task experience affected JOLs. A part of their findings showed better recall for inverted words than upright words. Sungkhasettee et al. concluded that people are unaware of the benefits of learning through desirable difficulties.
Diemand-Yauman et al. (2010) conducted research to determine if memory could be improved by disfluency interventions that lead to deeper processing. Two studies were carried out, both of which involved participants learning new material using either a fluent or hard-to-read font. Participants of the first experiment memorized information in 90 seconds then completed a 15-minute distractor task before being tested. The second experiment explored real world effects of disfluency intervention, wherein participants were assessed after different time periods and no distractor task was administered. Findings showed that the average score was higher for participants presented with disfluent materials than those presented with fluent materials. It was concluded that disfluent fonts was better for memory and that it had real world applications.
Our study is a consolidated replication of studies by Sungkhasettee et al. (2011) and Diemand-Yauman et al. (2010), so as to investigate whether findings of previous literature were reliable. Pen and paper questionnaires were administered to 378 undergraduate students after having them read about a fictional creature in one of three font conditions: easy-to-read, easy-to-read inverted and hard-to-read. Based on research by Carpenter et al. (2013) and Diemand-Yauman et al. (2010), it is hypothesised that memory for information presented in hard-to-read fonts is better than memory for easy-to-read fonts. It is also hypothesised that information presented in inverted fonts is retained more accurately than information presented in easy-to-read fonts, based on findings by Sungkhasettee et al. (2011).
Our study used an experimental design with a single independent variable, (manipulated font) and dependent variable (number of questions answered correctly).
Participants were 378 psychology majors at undergraduate level, who engaged in the study after providing informed consent. Prior approval was also given by the University ethics committee.
Three slides of the same information on a fictional creature in different font conditions: (1) Times New Roman, (2) inverted Times New Roman and (3) Blackadder. A filler task of basic math problems. Written survey of ten true or false questions like “Gozers have large blue eyes”.
Each slide was presented to participants of one of three separate 100-level psychology streams. Participants were given three minutes to only read the slide, then required to complete a 15-minute distractor task before answering the written survey where each question was allocated 20 seconds. Participants were debriefed after finishing the survey.
Responses of each condition were used to average out the respective number of questions answered correctly. The mean for Condition 3 (M = 7.50, SD = 2.18) was larger than the means for Condition 1 (M = 7.15, SD = 2.64) and Condition 2 (M = 6.82, SD = 1.96). It can be inferred that most participants answered six to seven questions accurately. The higher standard deviation for Condition 1, as compared to the other fonts, is indicative of higher variability.
Two independent samples t-test were conducted. It displayed no significant difference between the Condition 1 and Condition 2 (t(245) = 1.12, p = 2.62). However, a significant difference was discovered between Condition 1 and Condition 3. Participants presented with the latter font answered more questions correctly compared to participants presented with the former font (t(259) = 2.65, p = .009). This indicates that participants presented with difficult-to-read fonts remembered better in comparison to those presented with easy-to-read fonts, supporting our hypothesis. The hypothesis of memory being better when information was presented in inverted fonts compared to easy-to-read fonts was not supported.
Our findings backed the hypothesis that information presented in a hard-to-read font is more accurately retained compared to information presented in an easier-to-read font. The second hypothesis was not supported as the findings displayed no significant difference between the retainment of information presented in easy-to-read fonts and the retainment of information presented in its inverted form.
Our results indirectly support a part of the findings in the study by Carpenter, Wilford, Kornell, ; Mullaney (2013). The reading time for students, who viewed a disfluent lecturer, trying to understand concepts is comparable to processing new and hard-to-read information as investigated in our study. Both of which resulted in higher memory accuracy.
Our findings do not support those of Sungkhasettee, Friedman, ; Castel (2011) as no significant difference was found between easy-to-read fonts and its inverted form. This could have resulted from the differences in sample size, wherein a smaller one would be more easily affected if just a few participants scored very high. This would pull up the average of recall of inverted words and make it seem like an effective way of remembering things that might not be true for the population as a whole.
The significant difference discovered between Condition 1 and Condition 3 reinforced the findings of the study by Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, ; Vaughan (2010). Both studies found that memory was better for those who were presented disfluent information compared to fluent information. This could be attributed to the more complex cognitive operations involved in processing hard-to-read fonts compared to easy-to-read fonts, resulting in deeper processing and therefore better retention of information.
An implication of our research is the lack of significant difference between easy-to-read fonts and its inverted form. As the font was an inverted easy-to-read font, the cognitive operations probably required only a slightly higher level of complexity than the easy-to-read font and therefore did not lead to deeper processing as predicted. As such, the inverted font might actually be a fluent font instead of a disfluent font as it is categorised, hence why the accuracy of retained information between the easy-to-read font and its inverted form is similar.
Our study can be applied to the fonts used in required readings or thin textbooks, employing hard-to-read fonts in their entirety. While it might take a while to fully process the material, the information would be remembered accurately for a longer time allowing students to conserve energy and time required to regularly revise. Results suggests that students could potentially score higher on closed-book tests and exams by being presented information in hard-to-read fonts. If it works well, this method could be gradually applied to thicker textbooks.
A limitation of our study is prior knowledge of previous and related literature, in which participants have applied the research into study routines and could not answer objectively. The addition of compulsory questions about the extent of participants’ knowledge on the effects of font conditions on memory could help determine whether the data should be discarded after conclusion of the study. Our study did not exclude people with reading disabilities, who may have required more time to process information of the slides than others. A solution would be to enquire participants about any reading abilities before conducting the research. The data can be then be more appropriately assessed.
Future research could investigate whether the effects of font conditions differ between people whose first language is English and those whose first language is not English. The cognitive operations of people of whom English is not their first language might require higher complexity to register disfluent fonts, which could lead to lower accuracy of retained information as they might need longer time to process each sentence. This is important as it could help lecturers determine the extent at which they could use hard-to-read font conditions while teaching a class of students with mixes of English as first language and those whose English is not.
The hypothesis for better memory when information presented in hard-to-read fonts compared to easy-to-read fonts was validated. This supports the findings of Carpenter, Wilford, Kornell, & Mullaney (2013) and Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, & Vaughan (2010), wherein disfluency lead to better memory. The latter hypothesis contrasted with the findings of Sungkhasettee, Friedman, & Castel (2011) as no significant difference between memory for easy-to-read information and inverted information. Our results indicate that processing easy-to-read and inverted fonts require similar amounts of complexity, whereas hard-to-read fonts need more complex cognitive operations to process which leads to better memory.
Carpenter, S. K., Wilford, M. M., Kornell N., & Mullaney, K. M. (2013). Appearances can be deceiving: instructor fluency increases perceptions of learning without increasing
actual learning. Psychon Bull Rev, 20, 1350-1356. doi:10.3758/s13423-013-0442-z
Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D. M., & Vaughan, E. B. (2010). Fortune favors the bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118, 111-115.
Sungkhasettee, V. W., Friedman, M. C., & Castel A. D. (2011). Memory and metamemory for inverted words: Illusions of competency and desirable difficulties. Psychon Bull
Rev, 18, 973-978. doi:10.3758/s13423-011-0114-9