Monday, February 01, 2010

Does Easy = True?

The Boston Globe had a fascinating story in its Sunday edition about the burgeoning literature on what is known as "cognitive fluency." Cognitive fluency refers to how easy it is to think about something. Psychologist have demonstrated that making a statement easier to think about can increase the likelihood that people will believe the statement to be true. What do we mean by easier to think about? Psychologists have shown that printing a statement in an easier-to-read font, or making sentences rhyme, can increase the probability that individuals will conclude that the statement is true. Studies have also shown that stocks with easier to pronounce company names tend to outperform those with very difficult pronunciations.

On the other hand, psychologists have also shown that, in some circumstances, cognitive "disfluency" can have a profound impact. Put simply, making something more complex or difficult to comprehend can sometimes jar us into thinking more carefully about a subject. We might even catch mistakes. For instance, scholars have found that printing the question “How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?” in a more difficult-to-read font can raise the number of correct responses quite significantly (What's the answer? Noah took the animals on the ark, not Moses!).

I believe this current stream of research has some important implications for marketers, as they consider how to persuade and influence consumers to purchase their products. All marketers should explore these new studies about cognitive fluency.

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