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Neuroscience For Kids

Difficult Fonts for Better Learning
March 7, 2011

Which of the lines below would help you learn the information most effectively? Which line is easiest to read?


New research shows that line 1 is easier to read, but that lines 2, 3, and 4 are easier to remember and may help learning new material.

Researchers at Princeton University and Indiana University conducted two experiments to determine if changing the font of material would improve memory and learning. In the first study, people (18 to 40 years old) were given 90 seconds to memorize information written in different fonts. The people were given a memory test 15 minutes after they memorized the information. The subjects scored 72.8% correct when they memorized information in the easy- to-read text (Arial font, line 1 above), but the scored significantly better (86.5% correct) when they memorized information written in the difficult-to-read font (Comic Sans MS font, line 2 above).

easy In the second study, the researchers studied text font in a classroom setting. They changed the font in worksheets and Powerpoint slides in six different high school classes (AP English, Honors English, Honors Physics, Honors US History and Honors Chemistry) and then examined the test performance of 222 high school students.

Student test performance in all classes was significant better when students learned material using the difficult-to-read fonts compared to when they learned using the easy-to-read font. There were no differences in test performance between the different difficult-to-read fonts.

easy These data suggest that a simple change in font may improve learning and memory. One explanation proposed by the researchers for these results is that difficult-to-read text promotes "deeper processing strategies." In other words, material that is more difficult to learn causes people think about the material more and therefore, helps them learn better.

There may be limits to the ability of difficult-to-read text to improve learning. For example, if words are too difficult to read, then it is unlikely that people will benefit. Nevertheless, these experiments indicate how a small change to learning materials (text font) may impact classroom performance.


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