There is a lot of research in the psychological literature on the topic of
perceptual fluency: the ease with which information is processed. This
literature has shown that fluency influences a wide variety of judgments and
cognitive operations. One of my research foci is to explore the influence of
fluency in more depth. Below are listed some of my main endeavors in this
Obfuscation in Writing
Most texts on writing style encourage authors to avoid over-complex words.
However, a majority of undergraduates admit to deliberately increasing the
complexity of their vocabulary so as to give the impression of intelligence.
Both the experts and prevailing wisdom present plausible views, but which (if
either) is correct? One way to look at this question is through the lens of
perceptual fluency. As the complexity of vocabulary in a text increases, the
fluency of proccessing of that text will decrease. Since fluency is
typically related to a host of positive dimensions, this implies that as
complexity increases, evaluations of the text, and the text's author will
One set of studies I have run has investigated this hypothesis. I have found
that texts with more complex vocabulary are rated as having been written by
LESS intelligent authors. This relationship holds for several levels of
obfuscation, regardless of the quality of the essay, and irrespective of
a reader's prior expectations.
Categorization and Fluency
Most research on categorization has focused on prototypes, exemplars, and
features. Very little has been done to investigate whether something like
perceptual fluency could play a role in categorization judgments. However,
there is some evidence that fluency plays a role in just about every form of
judgment, and there's no obvious reason why categorization should be
A simple test of fluency on categorization involves simply altering fonts. By
degrading the font, and making the text harder to read, one can manipulate
fluency without manipulating content. Normatively, having a slightly altered
font should make no difference in people's categorization judgments, but I've
found that such manipulations have large effects. For example people rate a
robin to be a better example of the category "bird" when the font is clear,
than when it is degraded. Further studies in this vein are being run.
The Warm Glow Heuristic
As noted previously, fluency influences a lot of judgements. This includes
judgements of attractiveness, and judgements of famliarity. Thus, when an
object is attractive, one is likely to believe it to be fluent, which in turn
might lead one to believe it is familiar. Indeed, my advisor Benoit Monin has discovered that
people tend to find attractive things more familiar -- a finding he has
called the warm glow heuristic.
There are several other explanations for this finding aside from fluency,
and one series of studies has been an attempt to further explore the warm
glow heuristic and better understand the mechanisms underlying it. This also
leads to questions and studies about the nature of fluency's impact on both
familiarity and attractiveness, both of which I have investigated
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