TWSB: Comic Sans—Coming to a Classroom Near You

Yes, I’m counting this as a science blog. You can’t stop me.

I also think the authors came up with these studies so that they could put bold and italic type in their title.

Putting Comic Sans to its first good use since…well…since it was invented, the authors of this study took it upon themselves to examine disfluency—the subjective experience of difficulty associated with cognitive operations—and its relation to the retention of learned material. Basing their hypotheses on previous research, they surmised that disfluency leads to deeper processing of information, thus leading to better retention.

They decided to test this hypothesis by altering fonts used in teaching settings. In their first experiment, the researchers developed scenarios in which participants were to learn facts about fictional aliens by reading and memorizing the facts as they were presented to them. In the disfluent condition, the material was presented in Comic Sans or in Bodoni, both at a smaller point than the Arial font used in the fluent condition. Participants were given 90 seconds to memorize the list of facts, distracted for 15 minutes with an unrelated task, then asked questions based on the facts they were told to memorize.

Participants in the disfluent condition successfully answered 86.5% of the time, a statistically higher percentage than those in the fluent condition, who only answered correctly 72.8% of the time. The authors point to the results as evidence for their theory and point out that the discrepancy between the conditions could be due to several issues, including higher frustration levels in those who had to read the more disfluent fonts (I know if I had to read something school-related in Comic Sans I would probably stab myself in the eyes).

The second study was done with actual high school students in real learning environments. Sections of classes with varying levels of difficulty were randomly assigned to a disfluent or control category. Similar to the first study, the disfluent category required the fonts of all the learning materials to be either Haettenschweiler (which is about as difficult to read as it is to spell…and it’s partially difficult to spell because you can’t read its name to spell it), Monotype Corsiva, or Comic Sans Italicized. The font in the fluent category was unaltered. No other changes were made to the learning environments, and teachers were blind as to what condition they were in.

The effects of the disfluency were analyzed via the results of the assessment tests for the classes—particularly, a short survey was administered to test the effects of disfluency on motivation and motivation factors. Students in the disfluent condition scored statistically significantly higher on the classroom assessments than those in the control condition, indicating that retention of material—regardless of the subject and actual difficulty level of the class—could be heightened by use of disfluent reading material.

So basically, both of the studies done by these guys indicate that even something so seemingly simple as the font by which material is presented can have an effect on how well individuals learn and retain the material.

Which is pretty insane, but pretty awesome nonetheless.


New goal: type my MA thesis using Wingdings.

2 responses

  1. Matt Farnsworth | Reply

    Man I’d be pissed if I had to learn anything by reading comic sans.


    1. Hahaha, I know, right?


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