What Is Cognitive Fluency and How It Affects Our Decisions

What is Cognitive Fluency?

Our decisions are very likely to be swayed and distorted by the fluency of information relevant to our decisions. (Any information or stimulus that is easier to process is called more fluent, hence the term processing or cognitive fluency.)

As a general principle, our brains prefer simpler stimulus or information. Essentially the less effort it takes for the brain to process the information, the more pleased it is. Conversely, when the brain finds something challenging to process, it is more likely to doubt it. The principle works with any stimulus. For example, if an unreadable typeface challenges your brain, the brain will think that the information communicated by the typeface is unreliable.

Simple vs. Complex Writing

In a series of experiments, students were asked to read texts of varying complexity. The readers considered the authors of the more complicated texts to be less intelligent and their message less persuasive. These results would break the hearts of many corporate presenters who consistently “increase” their intelligence by making their language more complex.

Shares with Fluent Names

In another experiment, the researchers have found that shares with easily pronounceable names (e.g. Yahoo!) significantly outperformed shares with difficult names (e.g. Dugxtban HGB). Researchers calculated that if you had invested $1,000 in a share with easily pronounceable name, it would outperform the share with least pronounceable name by $333 in just one year.

Foreign Accent

In a more recent experiment, the researchers had two speakers – one native speaker and the other foreigner – reading the same text to the college students. The students were told that the speakers were merely asked to read the text and that it was written by someone else.

The students who listened to the non-native speaker found the information to be less persuasive. Here again, because the students had to put extra-effort to understand the speaker with the accent, their brain considered the underlying information less reliable.