Daily question: Can fonts make you want to exercise less?

From Scientific American:

Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz wanted to see if they could motivate a group of 20-year-old college students to exercise regularly. They gave all the students written instructions for a regular exercise routine, but they used a simple yet ingenious method to make the how-to instructions either cognitively palatable or challenging: some received instructions printed in Arial typeface, a plain font designed for easy reading; others got their instructions printed in a Brush font, which basically looks as if it has been written by hand with a Japanese paintbrush—it is unfamiliar and much harder to read.

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The findings were remarkable. Those who had read the exercise instructions in an unadorned, accessible typeface were much more open to the prospect of exercising: they believed that the regimen would take less time and that it would feel more fluid and easy. Most important, they were more willing to make exercise part of their day.

Just to be sure, University of Michigan researchers repeated the experiment with a different activity, cooking:

Again they used easy-and hard-to-read typefaces, but in this case the instructions were for making a Japanese sushi roll. After the volunteers had read the recipe, they estimated how long it would take them to make the dish and whether they were inclined to do it. They were also asked how much skill a professional cook would need to prepare the sushi roll.

The results were basically the same as before.

And they say design doesn’t affect human behavior as much as designers claim!*

Can you think of other ways in which the brain can be tricked to alter the direction of (seemingly) unrelated activities?

14 thoughts on “Daily question: Can fonts make you want to exercise less?

  1. Pingback: Tasks Written in Easy to Read Fonts Are More Likely to be Completed | Breaking Jist 4 U!

  2. Nick: “I can read from a computer screen, but I far prefer to read from a well printed book.”

    Yes, the info density and legibility are favorable to printed books, but the general experience of “reading” is far more than just following words on a page or taking in the beauty of photographs in a glossy magazine.

    With digital, you also get search, editing, re-purposing, zoom in/out, different form factors, text re-flow, sharing, and so on. A printed book is but one instantiation of its content, not the full definition of its possibilities.

    Opera was once the “movie” of its time. Today the vast majority of people prefer movies. This doesn’t have to “invalidate” opera, however.

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  4. I would like to see a similar study, but rather than comparing fonts, comparing reading materials rendered at vastly DPI… For instance, compare instructions displayed on a typical computer monitor (at 100 DPI or so) vs. instructions printed at 600 DPI or 1200 DPI.

    I suspect the results would be similar… it’s my pet favorite guess for why e-book readers (e.g. Kindle) still have so little market share. I can read from a computer screen, but I far prefer to read from a well printed book.

  5. Another example of subliminal influence is research showing that drivers speed up in a fog instead of slowing down. This is contrary as the fog affects perception of road texture and hence speed.

  6. You mean professional graphic designers are correct?

    Why would you ever set a brush-script in all caps? Oh the huge manatee!

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  11. I would go further and argue that the line spacing and general layout could also affect the results. For instance, I’d bet that I could still use the Brush font but by increasing the line spacing and manipulating the general layout, perhaps replicate or at least approach the Arial results.

    Maybe some nice Georgia on rough cotton stock would do even better. :-)

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