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font psychology

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Font psychology is the deliberate use of particular styles and sizes of characters in content to produce a desired effect in the viewer. 

A font is a set of printable or displayable text characters in a specific style and size. The type design for a set of fonts is the typeface and variations of this design form the typeface family. Thus, Helvetica, for example, is a typeface family, Helvetica italic is a typeface, and Helvetica italic 10-point is a font. 

Each property of a font has a psychological effect. Psychology Today reports on the effect of fonts on something called the Moses illusion, caused by a failure of semantic processing. When people are asked "How many animals of each species did Moses take on the ark?", most  respond with the answer "Two" -- failing to notice that Noah rather than Moses was the biblical figure associated with the ark story. David Lewis (author of "The Brain Sell: When Science Meets Shopping") reported that when an unfamiliar font was used, however, that the failure rate fell from 80 percent to 53 percent. 

In another study, researchers supplied subjects with two versions of a menu, one in a plain Courier font and the other in a more elegant Lucinda Calligraphy font. Although the tomato soup served to subjects and the text of its description were identical, those who had read the menu written in Lucinda Calligraphy were much more likely to rate it as "tasty, fresh and enjoyable."

Font psychology is commonly used in marketing materials to boost sales and promote trust, positive customer experiences and brand loyalty. The principles can also be applied to aid assimilation of information for educational purposes. Similarly to the results of the Moses illusion study, an unfamiliar font in text books significantly increased students' marks on exams. 

 

This was last updated in July 2014

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