“In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?” This is one of three simple questions designed by Dr. Shane Frederick to test a person’s cognitive reflection – their ability to reflect on an obvious but wrong initial answer to find the correct one.
If you answered the riddle above with 47 days instead of 24, the chances are you have good cognitive reflection, unlike the 3000 American college students who were given the test by Dr. Frederick. Only a surprisingly low 17% of these students were able to get all three questions right which is worrying considering that this score has been shown to correlate with a person’s IQ.
But do not fear if your riddling was not up to scratch either, as there’s one simple change you can make that is proven to make the difference: font. Whilst this may sound ridiculous, when a second group of students sat the same test except the questions were written in a smaller, harder to read font, a vastly improved 65% of them answered all three questions correctly.
Frederick theorized that there are two main types of thinking: system one and system two. System one is an impulse thought that happens quickly and often effortlessly. Examples of this in action include recognising faces and simple maths problems like 2 x 2. System 2 on the other hand is a more deliberate and analytical style of thinking, which is used when concentrating on more complex problems. One of the situations that triggers system two thinking is a phenomenon called ‘cognitive strain’. This occurs where the information is hard to process, so the brain needs to concentrate more. Therefore by switching up the font to something that is harder to read, the brain swaps to system two thinking, meaning that you suppress the initial urge to say the obvious, wrong answer and instead figure out the correct one – pretty clever if you ask me.
However the power of font does not stop there; not only can the stylized little squiggles theoretically improve your IQ, but they can also improve the amount of information you take in. A school in Ohio recently did a study where certain teachers changed the font used on PowerPoints and worksheets to see its effect on the students. Whilst this may sound like an insignificant difference, the students who were given different fonts did noticeably better in all subjects than those who were not.
Whilst, granted, making a few small changes to how you type may not make you into a rocket scientist but it’s surely worth a go! You never know, it might just turn you into a font-aine of knowledge (I’ll get my coat).
-Louis Allen, year 12