2.11.13

Keep it Simple and Difficult

It was only 1981 when researchers asked students "How many animals of each kind did Moses take into the Ark?" to which 81% answered "two". It's only on reflection when people note that it was the arc of Noah, rather than Moses.  

This has lead to further research which focuses on this "automatic pilot" engagement, taking mental short cuts and missing key things.   That does seem to be challenging the "keep it simple"  mantra - uncomplicated, accessible and memorable - which could encourage the Moses Illusion.

Research is pointing to more effective mixed models of engagement, where short bursts of mental complexity - "cognitive dis-fluency" - can help overcome that automatic pilot.

So in a new Moses Illusion experiment, 88% went for Moses when the prose was presented in a easy to read type face, reducing to 55% when presented in a more difficult to read type face.    The more difficult type face seems to stimulate the recognition that there's a more difficult task in hand that requires, and then gets, more mental effort.  This disruption or "dis-fluency" also seems to encourage more abstract thinking.

So a multidimensional rather than uni-dimensional approach is likely to be an overall better way to engage....that balance between simplicity with some complexity.  That rather rings of the paraphrasing quote of Albert Einstein...that things should be as simple as it can be but not simpler.

Sources: Wired. Oct 2103.  Adam Alter, New York University Stern School of Business.