13 June 2012

Processing fluency

A further post following People speaking with accents are less believable on Lingua Franca.
This one is on a concept in cognitive psychology called processing fluency. Yes, it will probably prove exceedingly naive in the long run. No, for the moment, I have no idea how relevant it is to different cultures let alone to L2 readers of technical journalism. And no, I can't find much evidence of serious analysis of the concept's relevance to technical communication and translation.

But please read on, because this could lead at the very least to some interesting exchanges and possibly to some new understanding and exciting breakthroughs as to the aims and promotion of technical communication and translation.

The terms processing fluency and cognitive fluency more relevant to technical journalism, technical journalism translation, graphic arts as applied to technical journalism and advertising than you might imagine.

The linked Wikipedia article states: "... studies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process — even totally non-substantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it — can alter judgement of the truth of the statement, along with evaluation of the intelligence of the statement's author." (my bold)

An article entitled Easy = True in the Boston Globe dated 31 January 2010 states:
  • "When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about."
  • "Playing with legibility can also change perceptions in subtler, less predictable ways."
  • "Even at the level of a trickier font, the experience of disfluency makes people wary and uncomfortable."
  • "The persuasive power of repetition, clarity, and simplicity is something that people who set out to win others’ trust — marketers, political candidates, speechwriters, suitors, and teachers — already have an intuitive sense of if they’re good at what they do. What the fluency research is showing is just how profound the effect can be, and just how it works." (my bold) (my highlighting)
The list above should, I suggest, be expanded to include technical communicators, technical journalists and their translators.

This is reassuring indeed for someone who has held a strong intuitive belief in these ideas for many years. That would, perhaps, have been too good to be true... Other considerations mentioned in the Boston Globe article include:
  • "Work on product marketing ... has found, for example, that while creating a sense of disfluency in potential consumers is likely to make them see a product as less familiar, it also makes them see it as more innovative."
  • "In other words, to get people to think carefully and to prevent them from making silly mistakes, make them work to process the question: make the font hard to read, the cadence awkward, and the wording unfamiliar."
The Boston Globe article stimulated Wandering Academic blogger Greg Clinton to post a follow-on article entitled, like many others on related issues: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

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