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Are you cognitively fluent?

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Here is a very interesting article by Drake Bennett at the Boston Globe, that has lots of ramifications for lawyers, marketers and others, on “cognitive fluency”: a measure of how easy it is to think about something.  New research confirms that people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard.   For example:

When presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process – even totally nonsubstantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it – can alter people’s judgment of the truth of the statement.  Those same manipulations can influence the evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author and their confidence in their own judgments and abilities.

People assign specific characteristics to things that feel familiar. Like beauty. Psychologists have identified what they call the “beauty-in-averageness” effect – when asked to identify the most attractive example of something, people tend to choose the most prototypical option. For example, when asked to identify the most appealing of a group of human faces, people choose the one that is a composite of all the others.

When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about. Psychologists have found that when people read about an exercise regimen or a recipe in a less legible font, they tend to rate the exercise regimen more difficult and the recipe more complicated than if they read about them in a clearer font.  And when a personal questionnaire is presented in a less legible font, people tend to answer it less honestly than if it is written in a more legible one.

Auditory cues can also shape people’s perception of truth. In a study in which a psychologist presented subjects with a series of unfamiliar aphorisms either in rhyming or nonrhyming form: “Woes unite foes,” for example, versus “Woes unite enemies”, people tended to see the rhyming ones as more accurate than the nonrhyming ones, despite the fact that, substantively, the two were identical. Phrases that are easier on the ear aren’t just catchy and easy to remember, they also feel inherently truer.

Keep that in mind next time you are planning a closing argument!


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