bad explanations science

If It Looks Difficult, It is Difficult…

… according to a new study from two psychologists at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, anyway.

This Scientific American article describes their elegant experiment to see how people react when something “feels” difficult. They presented two different groups of college students with printed instructions for a regular exercise routine. While the wording was the same in both sets of instructions, one group received instructions printed in a hard-to-read Brush font (a font that looks like brush strokes) while the other group received instructions printed in good ol’ fashioned Arial.

The results were crystal clear. People who received Arial instructions were more enthusiastic about the exercise routine than the Brush font folks, and predicted it would be much easier. The psychologists tried the experiment again using a sushi roll recipe and saw similar results.

From the article:

Apparently the students’ brains mistook the ease of reading about exercise for the ease of actually doing push-ups and crunches, and this misunderstanding motivated them to think about a life change. Those who struggled through the Japanese brushstrokes had no intention of heading to the gym; the reading alone tired them out.

There you have it — scientific evidence that when you’re explaining something, even peripheral confusion can make the content of your message seem more complicated.

[via Workplace Learning Today]

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