Difficult-to-read font reduces political polarity, study finds

Nov 02, 2012
University of Illinois psychology professor Jesse Preston, right, and graduate student Ivan Hernandez found that people were less biased after reading political materials or criminal evidence in a hard-to-read font. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

(Phys.org)—Liberals and conservatives who are polarized on certain politically charged subjects become more moderate when reading political arguments in a difficult-to-read font, researchers report in a new study. Likewise, people with induced bias for or against a defendant in a mock trial are less likely to act on that bias if they have to struggle to read the evidence against him.

The new research, reported in the , is one of two studies to show that subtle manipulations that affect how people take in information can reduce political polarization. The other study, which explores attitudes toward a Muslim community center near the site, is described in a paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

By asking participants to read an overtly political argument about capital punishment in a challenging font, the researchers sought to disrupt participants' usual attitudes to the subject, said graduate student Ivan Hernandez, who led the /mock trial study with University of Illinois Jesse Preston.

The intervention worked. Liberals and conservatives who read the argument in an easy-to-read font were much more polarized on the subject than those who had to slog through the difficult version.

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In a separate experiment, people were shown documents that praised or criticized the behavior of a in a mock trial before they saw the (rather sketchy) evidence against him. As expected, those who read an unflattering account of the defendant's character were much more likely to convict him than those who read a more complimentary report. The two sides were far apart on their assessment of the evidence.

"But when people read a difficult-to-read summary of the evidence, then they became more moderate," Hernandez said. "Those with the positive impression suddenly thought maybe he could be guilty and gave more guilty verdicts than those who had read the evidence in a normal font. And the people who didn't like him started giving more not guilty verdicts relative to before."

The study is the first to use difficult-to-read materials to disrupt what researchers call the "confirmation ," the tendency to selectively see only arguments that support what you already believe, Preston said. And it is the first to show that the intervention can moderate both deeply held political beliefs as well as newly formed biases, she said.

"Not only are people considering more the opposing point of view but they're also being more skeptical of their own because they're more critically engaging both sides of the argument," she said.

"We showed that if we can slow people down, if we can make them stop relying on their gut reaction – that feeling that they already know what something says – it can make them more moderate; it can have them start doubting their initial beliefs and start seeing the other side of the argument a little bit more," Hernandez said.

Explore further: The rich have more political clout in states, but stricter lobbying rules can narrow gap

More information: "Disfluency Disrupts the Confirmation Bias," http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002210311200176X (PDF)

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User comments : 13

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hyongx
5 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2012
This is cool. If only it worked for difficult-to-read handwriting, then I would be set.
88HUX88
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 02, 2012
It makes sense, but the article font (Arial) was too easy to read so I'm not sure if I was going with my gut reaction or not. I note that the font which was used is not specified.
BloodSpill
5 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2012
It makes sense, but the article font (Arial) was too easy to read so I'm not sure if I was going with my gut reaction or not. I note that the font which was used is not specified.

It is if you read the linked PDF!
Easy: "12-point Times New Roman"
Hard: "light gray bold and italicized Haettenschweiler font"
http://en.wikiped...chweiler
antonima
not rated yet Nov 02, 2012
As slimy as it sounds to manipulate people by using different fonts, this may actually be a good thing.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (3) Nov 02, 2012
THIS IS JUST THE REASON WHY PEOPLE ARE USING BOLD FONTS FOR BOLD CLAIMS!
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Nov 03, 2012
As slimy as it sounds to manipulate people by using different fonts, this may actually be a good thing.


This is, essentially, the only reason for the development of so many different fonts --to induce some particular state in the reader.

If you stop and compare what they've done with your own experience, you'll quickly understand why this strategy is effective --if the type is difficult to read, then you have to pay much closer attention to what you are reading, and --almost as a bonus-- this makes you focus on the meaning of what you are reading, in order to be certain that your comprehension hasn't been compromised by the difficulty of the act of reading itself.

contd
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Nov 03, 2012
You are probably already aware that when you read something under ordinary, unstrained, conditions, there is another layer of thinking that interposes itself, making comments and criticisms of the content/meaning of what you are reading, while you are reading it, and which you are consciously aware is occurring.

This is the level at which "Confirmation Bias" is operational --at least in terms of its impact upon reading comprehension and your interpretation of the value of what you read.

To put it another way --you compare the information you have read and its meaning, and either accept it as fitting your worldview or reject it as foreign, dangerous, poisonous, etc.

There has been quite a bit of research that has touched upon this area of the human condition of late, and much of it points to actual physiological, biochemical, and possibly even genetic differences in the way that "conservatives" and "liberals" experience, interpret, and understand Reality.

Why are we not surprised?
ka_
not rated yet Nov 03, 2012
I am wondering - how would dyslexia impact the results?
Would maybe a person with dyslexia will be more moderate regardless?
mikael_klingvall
1.5 / 5 (2) Nov 03, 2012
Selection bias. Who are willing to trudge through to a difficult-to-read article but those with the ability and patience to judge the article on its own merits? The article does not show that those who read both the easy-to-read and the difficult-to-read articles become more moderate; only that those who manage to read the difficult-to-read article are more moderate than those who manage to read the easy-to-read article.
Caliban
not rated yet Nov 04, 2012
Selection bias. Who are willing to trudge through to a difficult-to-read article but those with the ability and patience to judge the article on its own merits? The article does not show that those who read both the easy-to-read and the difficult-to-read articles become more moderate; only that those who manage to read the difficult-to-read article are more moderate than those who manage to read the easy-to-read article.


QED.

But, assuming a random sample(and that could, of course, be a stretch)--then what are we looking at?

mikael_klingvall
not rated yet Nov 04, 2012
QED. But, assuming a random sample(and that could, of course, be a stretch)--then what are we looking at?


Random sampling won't help unless *all* the subjects chosen for the difficult-to-read article actually reads (and comprehends) it. That's where the selection bias enters –– if only those who are interested and able to read it read it, the sample will be heavily biased. But if all subjects chosen read the article, then the moderateness of their views can be compared to those who read the easy-to-read article.
mikael_klingvall
not rated yet Nov 04, 2012
Bah. I read too quickly. On closer inspection, there seems to be no selection bias in the study; all subjects did read their articles.

Mea culpa.
PleonasticAxiom
1 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2012
This is a study on the obvious, any communications designer can tell you this; but what about different languages? I always envied china, japan and korea, etc, because a good chunk of their written language is intuitive and/or symbolic.