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Typography and electrical brain activity

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Christopher Timothy Dean's picture
Joined: 22 Oct 2006 - 10:49pm
Typography and electrical brain activity

New article:

Bayer, M. Sommer, S. and Schacht, A. (2012). Font size matters—Emotion and attention in cortical responses to written words. PLoS ONE, 7(5): e36042. 1–6. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036042

For emotional pictures with fear-, disgust-, or sex-related contents, stimulus size has been shown to increase emotion effects in attention-related event-related potentials (ERPs), presumably reflecting the enhanced biological impact of larger emotion-inducing pictures. If this is true, size should not enhance emotion effects for written words with symbolic and acquired meaning. Here, we investigated ERP effects of font size for emotional and neutral words. While P1 and N1 amplitudes were not affected by emotion, the early posterior negativity started earlier and lasted longer for large relative to small words. These results suggest that emotion-driven facilitation of attention is not necessarily based on biological relevance, but might generalize to stimuli with arbitrary perceptual features. This finding points to the high relevance of written language in today’s society as an important source of emotional meaning.


Put simply, an ERP is a spike or dip in electrical activity in the brain. Below is a photo of a participant I ran in an EEG/eye-tracking study. Note the “bullseye” sticker above her left eye. That is actually there for our new headless eye-tracker — http://www.sr-research.com/EL_1000.html . With this setup, we can now monitor eye movements and brain activity at the same time. Very cool.

Don McCahill's picture
Joined: 30 Mar 2006 - 7:55pm

I'm trying to think what the Comic Sans graph looks like.

J. Tillman's picture
Joined: 27 Sep 2009 - 11:31am

Aren't we trained from early reading to pay more attention to big bold words? Isn't that what bold type is for? Or all caps? STOP

I would really like to see this brain data used for a different purpose. Our brains must put out a different signal when we read hard-to-read type versus easy-to-read type. Once we identify those signals, we can (relatively) easily see what typefaces are actually good text fonts. And we could experiment to see what would be the best tracking for the good text fonts. A lot of a speculative, judgmental area would be cleared up.

So when will we see the retail, off-the-shelf typographers version of this rig?

Joe Pemberton's picture
Joined: 8 Apr 2002 - 3:36pm
Nick Shinn's picture
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am

This finding points to the high relevance of written language in today’s society as an important source of emotional meaning.


Nick Curtis's picture
Joined: 21 Apr 2005 - 8:16am

Duh, indeed.

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Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
Joined: 19 Nov 2010 - 11:15am

Huh-huh-huh! He said boobs! huh-huh-huh!