Comic Sans is the proverbial red-headed step child of typefaces. But beyond being derided for its cutesy looks and people’s penchant for using it in inappropriate communications, a recent “experiment” conducted by filmmaker Errol Morris in a piece he wrote for NYT.com shows that perception of the font can cause readers to do more than snicker. It may cause them to question your facts and affect whether they believe what you’ve written at all, he concludes in a follow-up.
We all know that we are influenced in many, many ways — many of which we remain blissfully unaware of. Could typefaces be one of them? Could the mere selection of a typeface influence us to believe one thing rather than another? Could typefaces work some unseen magic? Or malefaction?
Don’t get me wrong. The underlying truth of the sentence “Gold has an atomic number of 79” is not dependent on the typeface in which it is written. The sentence is true regardless of whether it is displayed in Helvetica, Georgia or even the much-maligned Comic Sans. But are we more inclined to believe that gold has an atomic number of 79 if we read it in Georgia, the typeface of The New York Times online, rather than in Helvetica?
To test this, he wrote a post in which a script changed the typeface of an identical passage and then asked readers (apparently more than 45,000 of them) to take a quiz asking whether they believed it to be true. The fonts tested were Baskerville, Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Comic Sans and Trebuchet.