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Fluency and the hedonic marking hypothesis

Dr. Simon Moss

Overview

The hedonic marking hypothesis can explain some remarkable findings. Individuals, for example, prefer symbols, such as logos or shapes, that are very conspicuous and sharp. That is, they prefer shapes in which the color diverges from the background hue (see Reber, Winkielman, & Schwartz, 1998). In addition, articles that comprise primarily short, rather than long, words tend to be perceived as more credible (Oppenheimer, 2006). Furthermore, proverbs that rhyme are usually regarded as especially compelling (McGlone & Togfighbakhsh, 2000).

According to the hedonic marking hypothesis (Winkelman, Schwartz, Fazendeiro, & Reber, 2003), some objects, patterns, words, or messages are processed very fluently. To illustrate, a pattern that is particular conspicuous, or articles that comprise short words, can be recognized, understood, evaluated, and interpreted rapidly and fluently.

This sense of fluency biases the evaluations of these objects. In particular, fluency elicits positive affective states. These positive states are, usually, attributed to the objects. That is, these objects seem to elicit positive emotions. These positive emotions then influence the appraisals of these objects. For example, these objects might be perceived more favorably.

Another mechanism can explain the benefits of fluency. People tend to assume that anything that is common is moral. That is, individuals confuse descriptive norms, or prevalence of an act, with injunctive norms, or perceived suitability of an act (Eriksson, Strimling, & Coultas 2015). Therefore, anything that is processed fluently, and thus assumed to be common, is also deemed favorably.

Evidence of hedonic marking of process fluency

Fluency and positive affect

A variety of studies have shown that fluency elicits positive affective states. One of the most compelling articles was published by Winkielman and Cacioppo (2001). In these studies, processing fluency was manipulated. For example, the duration over which stimuli appeared was varied& when the duration is prolonged, the stimuli are processed more fluently. The fluent stimuli were evaluated as more positive. Furthermore, these stimuli activated the zygomaticus muscles, which correspond to smiling, representative of positive affective states.

Attribution of positive affect to object

According to the hedonic marking hypothesis, fluency should bias judgments only if the positive affective state is attributed to the object. This contention was indeed substantiated by Topolinski and Strack (2009). In their study, sets of three words were presented in sequence. For half of these sets, the three words all related to the same term& for example, salt, deep, and foam are all, at least remotely, associated with sea. For the other sets, the three words, such as dream, ball, and book, did not relate to the same term. The task of participants was to decide, within half a second, whether or not the words are all associated with the same term. This limited time ensured that participants had to apply their intuition rather than identify the word explicitly.

In addition, while they completed this task, music was played in the background. The music was neither sad nor happy. Half of the participants were informed that music can affect the emotional reactions of individuals. The remaining participants did not receive this caution.

Participants often decided correctly whether or not the three words relate to a common fourth term. If participants had been told that music can shape their emotions, however, their performance tended to decline. According to Topolinski and Strack (2009), three words that relate to the same term are recognized more rapidly--an assumption they substantiated in a previous study. Words that are recognized rapidly elicit positive affect. This positive affect is then attributed to the set of items. Specifically, when individuals feel the items elicited positive affect, they assume the words must be related to a fourth term.

If participants are informed that music influences their emotions, they do not ascribe positive affect to these sets of words. Therefore, they cannot utilize their emotional state to decide whether the words relate to a fourth term. Their performance, therefore, declines (Topolinski & Strack, 2009).

These findings imply that fluency can elicit positive affective states, called core positive affect. This affect might be experienced as a subtle sensation, feeling, or vibe (e.g., Epstein, 1991, 1994). This sensation, if perceived as relevant, can then guide processing.

Determinants of fluency

Perceptual contrast

Objects or words that are more conspicuous tend to be processed more fluently, which in turn elicits positive affect and biases evaluations. Several procedures have been used to vary the extent to which items are conspicuous, such as the duration in which they are presented (Winkielman & Cacioppo, 2001) and the contrast with the background (e.g., Reber, Winkielman, & Schwartz, 1998).

Reber, Winkielman, and Schwartz (1998), for example, manipulated the color of various shapes. The colors were either very different or not very different from the background color. If the color diverged markedly from the background, the shapes were rated more positively. Furthermore, shapes were rated more positively if they appeared for a longer duration.

Similarly, Ling and van Schaik (2004) examined which hyperlinks individuals tend to choose when they scan a web page. Participants were more likely to select hyperlinks that were presented in bold and underlined than hyperlinks that were merely underlined. Presumably, hyperlinks that were bold and underlined were processed more fluently and thus perceived more favorably.

Words or sentences that are more salient than previous words or sentences are especially likely to be perceived as truthful. That is, the relative, rather than absolute, prominence of words or sentences are especially likely to affect evaluations (Hansen, Dechene, & Wanke, 2008).

In the study conducted by Hansen, Dechene, and Wanke (2008), participants read a series of statements, such as "Nut bread is healthier than potato bread". Participants could not readily ascertain whether these statements are true or false. These statements were presented in various colors, of diverse contrasts with the white background. Participants were asked to rate the likelihood they felt the sentences were true or false.

In general, sentences that appeared in a conspicuous color, like dark blue, were more likely to be rated as true (Hansen, Dechene, & Wanke, 2008). These sentences, however, were not more likely than other sentences to be rated as true if preceded by another conspicuous sentence (Hansen, Dechene, & Wanke, 2008). Hence, the increase in contrast, and not merely the contrast itself, is the main determinant of perceptual fluency.

Vividness

Vivid images of objects might also determine perceived fluency and, ultimately, bias evaluations. In a study conducted by Leboe and Ansons (2006), for example, a sequence of nouns, such as "cat", appeared alongside either a positive or negative word, like "pretty" or "murder". Participants were asked to ascertain whether or not this term that accompanied the noun was positive or negative, as rapidly as possible.

Before completing these tasks, participants formed vivid images of a subset of these nouns. If a noun had been imagined vividly before, positive words that accompanied this term were rapidly recognized as favorable. Negative words that accompanied this term, however, were not rapidly recognized as unfavorable. In contrast, if the noun had not been imagined vividly before, this disparity between positive and negative terms dissipated.

According to Leboe and Ansons (2006), when individuals form vivid images of a word, this item is subsequently processed more fluently. This fluency elicits positive affective states. These states diminish the capacity of individuals to recognize the valence of negative terms. That is, positive states reduce the sensitivity of individuals to negative characteristics.

Familiarity and repetition

Patterns or words that are familiar are also processed more fluently, eliciting positive affect. In a study, conducted by Oppenheimer (2006), participants read one of two passages. The two extracts were identical, except one of these passages comprised some longer words, many of which are used less frequently. If the passage comprised small and simple rather than long and infrequent words, participants were more likely to assume the author was credible and intelligent.

According to Oppenheimer (2006), the small and simple words were processed more fluently. This fluency activated positive affective states, which biases the evaluations of this passage.

Similarly, Howard (1997) showed that familiar phrases--that is, renowned proverbs--are perceived as more compelling than unfamiliar phrases. Interestingly, when the attention of participants was distracted, this effect of familiarity was especially pronounced. Presumably, familiar phrases elicit positive affect states. To evaluate these phrases, participants consider these emotional states only when their attention is distracted to another issue. When their attention is not distracted, these participants orient their thoughts towards the logic and rationality of the arguments, neglecting their intuitive or emotive states.

Finally, to manipulate fluency, many researchers vary the number of times a message is repeated. To illustrate, Nordhielm (2002) showed that participants are more likely to perceive a product as desirable if they watch an advertisement that promotes this product many, rather than a few, times. This repetition, presumably, increases the perceived fluency with which the information is processed. This fluency elicits positive affective states, which in turn bias evaluations of the product. Interestingly, this effect of repetition diminishes, and even reverses, in participants who direct their attention to the arguments in this advertisement. These participants, perhaps, do not utilize their intuitive feelings to judge the product.

Accents

Accents might also compromise fluency, ultimately curbing the credibility of people whenever they do not speak in their native language. In one study, conducted by Lev-Ari and Keysar (2010), participants heard a series of trivia statements, like "Ants don't sleep". They were asked to specify the extent to which they believe the statement is true, on a scale ranging from definitely false to definitely true. The statements were read by someone with no accent, a mild accent, or a heavy accent. Participants were more likely to believe statements that were expressed with no accent relative to a mild or heavy accent.

A subsequent study was the same, except participants were informed the research is designed to examine how style of speech affects the likelihood that statements are believed. Hence, participants were, presumably, more aware that accents could bias their evaluations. In this instance, participants were more likely to believe statements that were expressed with no or mild accents relative to a heavy accent. This finding implies that deliberate attempts to correct the bias may be effective when the accent is mild but ineffective when the accent is heavy.

Interestingly, in these studies, participants were told the speakers were merely reciting sentences that were written by the experimenter. This bias against people with an accent, therefore, cannot merely be ascribed to stereotypes against particular ethnicities. Instead, this bias most likely arises because accents are difficult to process, compromising fluency.

Symmetry

When information is presented in a symmetrical format, individuals tend to process the content more fluently. Consequently, the information is more likely to be embraced and perceived as relevant. This possibility was posed and then corroborated by Middlewood and Gaspar (2014).

In one study, participants were exposed to information about a contentious topic, such as whether advertising is harmful. In one condition, the information was presented symmetrically. That is, the format on the left and right side of the page was identical: a heading embedded in a colored box was positioned at the top& writing in a particular font appeared in a white box underneath. In the other condition, the information was presented asymmetrically. On the left side, the writing appeared above the heading. On the right side, this arrangement was reversed. After reading this information, participants indicated how relevant the topic seemed. Symmetrical information was perceived as more relevant.

Subsequent studies corroborated this finding. People were also more willing to change their behavior in response to information that was presented symmetrically.

Semantic coherence

Topolinski and Strack (2009) demonstrated that semantic coherence--that is, sets of words that are all related to the same term--can also elicit a sense of fluency. In this study, 72 sets of three words were presented in sequence. For half of these sets, the three words all related to the same term& for example, salt, deep, and foam are all, at least remotely, associated with sea. For the other sets, the three words, such as dream, ball, and book, did not relate to the same term. In addition, interspersed within these trials, was another 72 sets of three items& in these sets, however, one of the items was not a word.

The task of participants was merely to ascertain whether or not each set comprised three legitimate words, a variant of the classical lexical decision task. When the sets were coherent--that is, when the three words were related to the same term?--articipants could more rapidly decide whether these items were legitimate words.

According to Topolinski and Strack (2009), these findings indicate that semantic coherence facilitates fluency. Conceivably, the three words, such as salt, deep, and foam, all partially activate the representation of a common term, such a sea. The representation of this common term, in turn, increases the activation level of the three words. The three words, therefore, can be recognized more rapidly. They can be processed more fluently.

Alternative explanations were also discarded. For example, the coherent words were no more related to each other than were the incoherent words (cf Bolte & Goschke, 2005, from where the sets were derived). The findings, therefore, do not merely represent semantic priming of the words within a set.

Furthermore, consistent with the hedonic marking hypothesis, semantic coherence was associated not only with fluency, but also with positive affective states. In the second study, as reported by Topolinski and Strack (2009), participants were again exposed to the same sets of three words. Furthermore, they were again asked to ascertain whether or not all the words in this set were legitimate. After each trial, however, another word appeared. The participants were asked to specify whether this word was positive or negative in tone.

After participants were exposed to a set of words that all relate to the same term, and were thus processed fluently, they could rapidly ascertain the valence of positive but not negative terms. Presumably, the coherent sets elicited positive states. As a consequence, participants were subsequently less sensitive to the adversities of negative words, consistent with the notion of affective priming (cf Fazio, 2001). In contrast, after participants were exposed to a set of words that do not relate to the same term, which obstructs fluency, they could rapidly ascertain the valence of negative terms as well.

Consistency with context

Several studies indicate that anticipated words or patterns are also processed fluently. In a study conducted by Whittlesea (1993), for example, participants evaluated the extent to which they like various items, like boat. On all trials, the item appeared as the last word of a sentence. Sometimes, the word could be predicted by the sentence, such as "The stormy sea tossed the BOAT". On other trials, the word could not be readily predicted by the sentence, such as "He saved up his money and bought a BOAT". Words that could be readily predicted were rated as more pleasant.

According to Whittlesea (1993), words that could be predicted by the sentence were processed more fluently. This fluency elicited positive affective states, which were then projected onto the word. Hence, the word was perceived as more positive or favorable.

Likewise, as McGlone and Togfighbakhsh (2000) showed, participants tend to feel that rhyming phrases, such as "Life is mostly strife", are more accurate descriptions of life than are other phrases, such as "Life is mostly struggle": Rhyming phrases are often processed more fluently& the final word is more predictable. This fluency then biases evaluations of the message.

In addition, as Lee and Labroo (2004) show, when the context or setting of an advertisement is related to the product, evaluations of this item are likely to be positive. To illustrate, consider an advertisement that needs to promote a specific brand of tomato sauce. The advertisement could portray a woman who seems depressed in a supermarket until, towards the end of this commercial, she stumbles across the tomato sauce and immediately feels content. In this instance, most of the scene is not strongly associated with tomato sauce.

Conversely, the advertisement could present a poster of tomato sauce and then a boy in a hamburger store. Finally, the boy might open this brand of tomato sauce. In this instance, images in the advertisement might activate representations of the sauce. This sauce is processed fluently, which elicits positive affect, and improves evaluations of the product.

Alignment between space and time

Cultures that read from left to right tend to associate left with the past and right with the future (Chae & Hoegg, 2013). Consequently, anything associated with the past, such as a photo of someone before a weight loss program or classical furniture, is processed more fluently if positioned towards the left. Conversely, anything associated with the future, such as a photo of someone after a weight loss program or modern furniture, is processed more fluently if positioned towards the right. This fluency should then generate more favourable evaluations.

For example, in one study, conducted by Chae and Hoegg (2013), participants first engaged in a task that reinforced the notion that many people associate the past with the left and associate the future with the right. In particular, participants were asked to arrange a set of movies from the oldest to the newest. Some people were told to arrange the oldest movies to the left and the newest movies to the right. Other people were told to arrange the oldest movies to the top and the newest movies to the bottom. Next, they evaluated an advertisement that sells a weight loss program. The advertisement included a picture of someone before and after they engaged in this program. The before picture appeared either to the right or to the left of the after picture.

If the before picture appeared to the left of the after picture, the weight loss program was perceived as more effective, reliable, and favourable. This pattern of results, however, was not observed only if participants had previously arranged the movies from up to down--but was observed if people has not been asked to arrange the movies at all. In short, provided the notion that time can be represented horizontally is not inhibited, participants are more likely to prefer some offer when the past is located to the left of the future.

The problem with this study is that before pictures usually appear to the left of after pictures& so, the familiarity of this arrangement could have biased the results. The second study overcame this problem. In this study, participants browsed a magazine to locate either some classical or some modern furniture. Participants then rated an advertisement of one relevant piece, located either on the left or right of a page. Classical furniture was rated more positively if positioned on the left, whereas modern furniture was rated more positively if positioned on the right.

As the third study showed, these effects of position are especially pronounced in participants who report a high need for structure. That is, people who like clarity and certainty feel especially concerned when information is not processed fluently. They feel this limited fluency might indicate uncertainty, evoking negative emotions. The fourth study showed the effect is reversed in cultures that read from right to left.

Consistency with bodily or visceral states

As Risen and Critcher (2011) demonstrated, messages that are aligned to the bodily or visceral states of individuals seem more compelling. For example, when individuals feel hot instead of cold, they are more likely to believe the globe is warming. Similarly, when they feel hungry, they are more inclined to assume that droughts are likely. Messages that are congruent with these visceral states are processed more fluently, biasing perceptions of validity. Alternative explanations of these findings were also refuted.

In the first study, for example, participants were asked to indicate whether they feel that global warming has been established. If the ambient temperature was cold, instead of hot, participants expressed more doubts about global warming. The effect of temperature on these beliefs did not depend on the political party that participants prefer.

In another study, the thirst of participants was also manipulated: That is, some participants ate pretzels, intended to incite thirst. These participants were then more likely to endorse the statement "Desertification and drought will threaten people's ability to find fresh drinking water".

One alternative explanation is that individuals utilize bodily or visceral states, such as whether they feel hot or cold, to inform their decisions, consistent with the notion of feelings as information. According to this model, when individuals are aware of the actual source of their ongoing feelings, these states are not as likely to bias their decisions. Therefore, in one condition, participants were asked to indicate whether the room was warm or cold--a question that should curb the effect of feelings as information. However, this question did not override the effect of ambient temperature on beliefs about climate change. Feelings as information could not explain this effect.

Another alternative explanation is that hot temperatures activate the concept of heat, biasing beliefs about global warming. To refute this possibility, participants were instructed to rearrange words to construct sentences. For some participants, words associated with heat, such as sizzling, were embedded within this task. Next, participants received incomplete words, such as H - - T. Some of the answers revolved around heat. If participants had been exposed to words that relate to heat, they subsequently recognized incomplete words that correspond to the same concept& the incidental words thus primed concepts associated with heat. Nevertheless, exposure to these words did not affect beliefs about global warming.

A final set of studies indicated that ambient temperature does indeed increase the perceive clarity or vividness of hot conditions, consistent with the fluency hypothesis. That is, when the ambient temperature was warm, pictures of hot conditions, such as a desert, were later remembered as clearer than pictures of colder conditions, such as the snow.

Labels

Labels may also expedite fluency, called the name-ease effect (Labroo, Lambotte, & Zhang, 2009). That is, some events, theories, or patterns are assigned labels, such as big bang theory. When labeled, these events, theories, or patterns may be processed more fluently.

In one study, for example, participants read a theory, which emphasizes that individuals strive to join groups that reconcile their need to belong with their need to be distinct. The name of this principle, optimal distinctiveness theory, was presented to some, but not all, participants. Participants were also asked to specify whether they felt the information was very easy or difficult to process, along a 7 point scale (see Labroo, Lambotte, & Zhang, 2009).

If the theory had been named, participants were more inclined to feel the information was easy to process (Labroo, Lambotte, & Zhang, 2009). To explain this finding, Labroo, Lambotte, and Zhang (2009) argued that some names summarize the content. Thus, when participants are exposed to a name, concepts and principles that are related to this label might be activated. These concepts and principles are thus more accessible. Individuals can readily process these concepts and principles, eliciting a sense of ease or fluency.

Alternatively, the label may become associated with the information. Individuals might associate the first sentence they read with this label, for instance. When they read the next sentence, the label continues to activate the first sentence. The various sentences, therefore, might be easier to integrate (for a related explanation, see Labroo, Lambotte, & Zhang, 2009).

Furrowed brow

If individuals furrow their brow, they are more likely to perceive the information they read as limited in fluency. That is, as Galak and Nelson (2010) maintained, individuals often furrow their brow when they cannot readily understand a passage. Over time, they begin to associate these proprioceptive cues?-that is, the feeling of a furrowed brow?-with difficulty or limited fluency. Therefore, if individuals are somehow encouraged to furrow their brow, they perceive the ensuing text they read as limited in fluency. Consistent with this premise, when individuals were instructed to furrowed their brow, supposedly to examine the effect of tension on performance, they rated a short story as limited in quality, presumably because fluency had been impeded.

Spoilers of books

Sometimes, people read spoilers of books--descriptions that expose the outcomes of these tales. Interestingly, these spoilers tend to increase, rather than decrease, the likelihood that people will enjoy these books. In particular, after reading the spoiler, the book can be processed more fluently and is thus evaluated more favorably (Leavitt & Christenfeld, 2011).

To demonstrate, in one study, participants read a series of stories, including mysteries for example. In some instances, they read a spoiler first, in which the outcome was exposed inadvertently. In other instances, the first paragraph of the story exposed the outcome. Finally, in some instances, the outcome was concealed. In general, if participants read a spoiler, they were more likely to enjoy the story. Nevertheless, spoilers that were included in the first paragraph of the story were not effective (Leavitt & Christenfeld, 2011).

Spoilers may facilitate process fluency. Alternatively, spoilers may highlight the goal or outcome to which book will eventually unfold. Spoilers may, therefore, elicit a discrepancy or tension between the ongoing drama and the ultimate ending. This tension may engross the reader, increasing enjoyment.

Hierarchical rather than egalitarian relationships

As Zitek and Tiedens (2011) argued and then validated, hierarchical relationships tend to be processed more fluently than egalitarian relationships. Specifically, most hierarchies share characteristics in common. Often, one person is the main leader, and this person is often granted more influence, status, control, money, and other benefits than other individuals. In addition, hierarchies are common. That is, people are familiar with these relationships. Consequently, hierarchies are processed fluently. In contrast, egalitarian relationships, or other associations, are not processed as fluently. Instead, people need to deliberate about these relationships more carefully.

Therefore, although people claim they reject inequality, they do exhibit a natural affiliation towards some hierarchies. For example, because hierarchies are processed fluently, people may be more likely to remember and like hierarchical arrangements. They may rate a hierarchical organization more favorably than an egalitarian organization.

Zitek and Tiedens (2011) conducted a series of studies that verify these arguments. In the first study, on each trial, either two humans or a human alongside an animal was presented. The task of participants was to decide, as rapidly as possible, whether two humans had been presented. If the two humans both seemed dominant--with deep set eyes and a prominent chin--or both seemed submissive--with protruding ears and a narrow face--participants could not rapidly distinguish them from a human alongside an animal. If one of the humans was dominant and the other human was submissive, participants responded more rapidly. They could process individuals who differed on dominance more rapidly.

In the second study, seven names were arranged to form a pattern. Some participants observed a circular pattern, with no hierarchy. Some participants observed a classical hierarchy, with three levels, and one person at the top. Finally, some participants observed the people classified in clusters that were not hierarchical. The task of participants was to reproduce the names. If they failed, they were granted an opportunity to scan the pattern again, until they could complete the task successfully. As predicted, individuals did not need to scan the patterns as frequently to learn the hierarchical arrangement.

In the third study, participants learned about the relationship among four men. They were told, for example, that two people were friendly to each other or that one person imposes orders on the other person. In addition, the participants were asked to memorize these relationships. Both before and after this memory task, these individuals were also asked the extent to which they like the relationships. Again, participants could more readily remember hierarchical relationships, in which one person tends to impose orders on the other person. Furthermore, people became more inclined to like a relationship after they completed the memory task successfully. In short, hierarchical relationships were remembered better, evoking a sense of fluency that translated into liking.

In the fourth study, people read about the goals and strategies of an organization, as well as the gender, age, revenue, and tenure of all the employees. They were also asked to evaluate whether the company is functioning effectively and is an inspiring workplace for employees. Participants were more likely to evaluate this company favorably if the organizational chart showed these employees can be divided into five rather than three levels. Specifically, when the company comprised many levels, and was thus hierarchical, people learned about the relationships between the individuals more efficiently. This sense of efficiency or fluency converted to positive evaluations (Zitek & Tiedens, 2011).

Regulatory fit

Finally, regulatory fit might also facilitate fluency (see Regulatory focus theory). That is if individuals focus their attention on desirable opportunities they could accrue in the future, called a promotion focus, they fluently process messages that highlight the potential gains they could enjoy. In contrast, if individuals focus their attention on undesirable possibilities they need to avoid more immediately, called a prevention focus, they fluently process messages that emphasize the potential losses they could evade (see Lee & Aaker, 2004).

Other forms of fit

Other forms of fit can also increase fluency. To illustrate, individuals sometimes orient their attention more to cognitive information, such as facts, than to emotional information, such as warmth, kindness, and appearance. Because of this orientation, these individuals tend to process cognitive information more readily. For example, messages that begin with the phrase "I think..." are processed efficiently, instilling a sense of fluency.

At other times, individuals orient their attention more to emotional information. Because of this orientation, these individuals tend to process affective details, such as feelings, more readily. Messages that begin with the phrase "I feel..." instill a sense of fluency instead.

Mayer and Tormala (2010) proposed and then validated this account. In this study, participants first read an essay that was intended to prime an orientation towards affective or cognitive information. To prime an orientation to affective information, the essay described the negative emotions that people sometimes experience, in vivid details, when they donate blood. To prime an orientation to cognitive information, the essay described unfortunate statistics about blood donations, such as the number of people who donate only once.

Next, participants read an essay that emphasized the merits of donating blood. For some participants, the essay was entitled "My feelings about blood donations" and began with the phase "I feel". For other participants, the essay was entitled "My thoughts about blood donations" and began with the phrase "I think"& otherwise, the essays were the same in both conditions.

Finally, participants comple ed a series of measures that were intended to ascertain the effect of this essay. Some of the questions assessed the attitudes of participants to blood donation. Other questions assessed whether or not they felt the message was easy to comprehend--a measure of fluency. Finally, some questions gauged the extent to which participants felt engrossed when they read this vindication of donations.

As predicted, if an orientation to affective information had been primed, individuals processed the essay that began with "I feel" rather than "I think" more fluently. Conversely, if an orientation to cognitive information had been primed, individuals processed the essay that began with "I think" more fluently. Fluency then translated into more favorable attitudes towards blood donations.

One of the practical implications of this finding is that messages that refer to feelings might be more effective in commercials that promote emotional or hedonic practices, such as romance novels. References to thoughts might be more effective in commercials that promote more useful products, such as computers.

Consequences of fluency

According to the hedonic marking hypothesis, fluency tends to elicit positive affect. This positive affect is often attributed to the object or pattern under consideration. This object or pattern is then evaluated positively.

Obviously, positive affective states can also affect other responses. For example, repetition and thus fluency can reduce the perceived threat of some message. As a consequence, messages that are not especially relevant are more likely to be disregarded, rather than heeded, if fluent, as shown by Claypool, Mackie, Garcia-Marques, Mclntosh, and Udal (2004). That is, participants might assume these messages are not threatening and thus could be disregarded.

Positive affect, evoked by fluency, can also affect other perceived properties of objects and patterns. This fluency increases the likelihood that an object or message is perceived as familiar (Whittlesea, 1993), valid (Reber & Schwartz, 1999), coherent (Topolinski & Strack, 2009), and clear (Whittlesea, Jacoby, & Girard, 1990).

Perceived importance

Usually, information that is processed fluently is perceived as more important. In a post hoc study, conducted by Labroo, Lambotte, and Zhang (2009), participants read an extract of a theory, which emphasized that individuals strive to join groups that reconcile their need to belong with their need to be distinct. The name of this principle, optimal distinctiveness theory, was disclosed to some, but not all, participants. Participants then rated the extent to which they perceive this information as easy to read and important.

When this theory was labeled, the information was perceived as easier to read. The label, therefore, augmented fluency. Importantly, when perceived as easier to read, the information was rated as more important (Labroo, Lambotte, & Zhang, 2009).

Nevertheless, in some instances, fluency can reduce the perceived importance of some extract. Labroo, Lambotte, and Zhang (2009) again presented extracts of information, either with or without an accompanying title to manipulate fluency. Some participants were instructed to consider whether or not the information was easy to understand. Other participants were instructed to consider whether or not they could recall the information. Finally, all participants were instructed to specify whether they felt the information was important.

If participants reflected upon whether the information was easy to understand, the titles actually reduced the perceived importance of these extracts (Labroo, Lambotte, & Zhang, 2009). Presumably, the titles facilitated the interpretation of this information. The information was thus processed effortlessly. Individuals tend to associate effortless analysis with trivial information. These individuals, thus, assumed the information was trivial.

If participants reflected upon whether the information was easy to memorize, the titles increased the perceived importance of these extracts (Labroo, Lambotte, & Zhang, 2009). The titles, most likely, facilitated the retrieval of this information. Individuals tend to assume that information that is easily retrieved is probably important. Indeed, they regard the celebrities whose names are easily to recall as more famous (e.g., Jacoby, Kelley, Brown, & Jasechko, 1989). These individuals, thus, presumed the information was significant.

Sense of meaning in life

Processing fluency can foster a sense of meaning in life. In particular, as Trent, Lavelock, and King (2013) showed, if questions that assess meaning in life are printed in a font that is easy to read, individuals are more likely to report an elevated meaning in life.

Specifically, in this study, participants first completed a measure of meaning in life, epitomized by items like "I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful". The questions were presented in fonts that are easy to read--such as a very large or average size--or fonts that are difficult to read--such as a very small or mixed size. Next, participants specified the degree to which they felt positive emotions, such as happiness and enjoyment. If the fonts were easy to read, individuals reported an elevated sense of meaning, and this relationship was mediated by positive emotions. Presumably, fluency evokes positive emotions, and these emotions instil a sense in people that perhaps their pursuits are suitable and right, experienced as meaning in life.

Immediacy

In general, objects or locations that can be contemplated vividly tend to be perceived as physically close rather than remote (Alter & Balcetis, 2010). Conceivably, individuals tend to form vivid images of locations they visit often, most of which are nearby. They might thus form associations between vivid and nearby locations. That is, locations that seem vivid are assumed to be nearby.

This association between vivid and nearby locations also underpins another interesting discovery: Desirable locations are seem nearby (Alter & Balcetis, 2010). Presumably, individuals may associate desirable objects with vivid objects. That is, vivid representations tend to be perceived favorably. Thus, desirable locations are represented vividly and thus assumed to be nearby. Furthermore, individuals may prefer to direct their attention to desirable objects& hence, these desirable objects become more vivid over time.

Alter and Balcetis (2010) substantiated this account. In this series of studies, participants were instructed to estimate the relative location of sites in New York, such as the Lincoln Memorial, or on their campus. Their attitudes to these sites was also determined. Finally, the extent to which participants could form vivid images of these sites was assessed. Sites that were perceived favorably were more likely to be perceived as relatively close in location. This relationship was mediated by the extent to which the site could be imagined vividly.

Some key practical implications to workplaces emerge from this finding. Specifically, in some organizations, employees often need to collaborate with people they have never met--colleagues that work in other offices or even other nations. Photographs, virtual tours, or some other media should be organized to ensure the location of these other offices or locations are as vivid as possible. These other colleagues, then, do not seem as far away. Employees form a concrete construal of these colleagues, ensuring they are more sensitive to their specific features rather than swayed by broad stereotypes.

Disclosure

According to Alter and Oppenheimer (2009), when fluency is impeded, individuals perceive the environment as riskier. Because of this sense of risk, they are not as inclined to disclose information about themselves. Fluency, therefore, should foster disclosure.

Alter and Oppenheimer (2009) conducted a series of studies that vindicate these arguments. To illustrate, in one study, participants completed the Crowne and Marlowe social desirability scale. In one condition, the text was very clear. In the other condition, the text was faint and difficult to read, diminishing fluency. As fluency decreased, participants exhibited higher levels of bias on this scale. They were not as inclined to concede their faults.

A second study confirmed that participant conceded they would not be as comfortable to disclose personal information, such as their religious beliefs, if the questionnaire they received was difficult to read. In this study, participants were also asked to indicate the extent to which they feel exposed, uncomfortable, embarrassed, and other words that reflect discomfort. As the results showed, this discomfort mediated the relationship between illegible font and reluctance to disclose personal information.

The final study showed that fluency diminished a sense of risk. Participants received a series of incomplete words, such as ris-, in either a conspicuous or faint font. If the font was faint and, therefore, difficult to read, participants often uncovered words that were synonymous with risk. For example, ris- often generated the answer risk instead of rise.

Investment decisons

A sense of familiarity, and thus fluency, may also shape the investment decisions of individuals. For example, in many nations, individuals need to choose which retirement, pension, or superannuation fund they should invest their money.

In general, as substantiated by Hedesstrom, Svedsater, and Garling (2007), individuals prefer funds that invest in domestic rather than foreign stocks. Conceivably, domestic stocks seem more familiar and thus are processed fluently. Other biases, however, also shape these decisions. Individuals tend to choose the default fund--that is, the fund in which their money would be invested if they do not act, reflecting a status quo bias. They also tend to choose the fund that invests in a greater diversity of stocks and securities. If individuals deliberate carefully and perceive their decision as important, their tendency to choose the default fund diminishes but their preference for domestic and diverse stocks does not seem to decrease significantly (Hedesstrom, Svedsater, & Garling, 2007).

Belief that trends will continue or reverse

When individuals experience a sense of fluency, they are more likely to assume that existing trends will continue. That is, information that is not processed fluency is perceived as unsound. If this information describes a specific trend, individuals will tend to assume this pattern is invalid and might not persist in the future.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Huang, Song, and Bargh (2011), participants read about a hockey team that had gradually improved over the last three years. In one condition, the font was easy to read, evoking a sense of fluency. In the other condition, this font was difficult to read. Participants specified the likelihood the hockey team would continue to improve. If the font was difficult, rather than easy, to read, participants were more inclined to assume the recent trend would reverse. In a subsequent study, the same pattern of results emerged, even when the recent trend demonstrated a gradual deterioration rather than improvement over time.

Limitations of the hedonic marking hypothesis

Fluency enhanced the perceived applicability of primes

Hafner and Stapel (2010) showed that not all of the effects of fluency can be ascribed to positive affective states. In particular, according to Hafner and Stapel (2010), fluency might increase the extent to which individuals perceive a prime as informative or usable.

To demonstrate and clarify this possibility, participants first received sets of five words. Their task was to unscramble these words to generate sentences that comprised four of these words, called the sentence unscrambling task. For some participants, the sentences comprised desirable synonyms of thrifty, such as economical or careful. For other participants the sentences comprised undesirable symptoms of stingy, such as greedy or miserly. Alternatively, for some participants, the sentences comprised desirable synonyms of adventurous, such as brave and courageous. Finally, for the remaining participants, the sentences comprised undesirable synonyms of reckless, such as careless or rash.

In addition, for some participants, many of the sentences rhymed, which can facilitate fluency (cf McGlone & Togfighbakhsh, 2000). For other participants, the sentences did not rhyme.

Finally, participants completed a variant of the Donald paradigm. Specifically, they received information about a person, who was called Ralph in this study. Some of the information implied that Ralph was more thrifty than stingy. Other information implied that Ralph was more stingy than thrifty. Furthermore, whether Ralph was witty or sarcastic was also ambiguous. The task of participants was to evaluate the extent to which Ralph was thrifty, witty, persistent, and confident. They were also asked to indicate the confidence in their judgment.

Generally, in this paradigm, positive primes, such as exposure to words like economical or brave, will influence judgments on only overlapping attributes (Higgins, 1996& Higgins, Rholes, & Jones, 1977). For example, after exposure to words like economical, the target should be perceived as more thrifty but not necessarily more adventurous. Similarly, after exposure to words like brave, the target should be perceived as more adventurous, but not necessarily more thrifty. This pattern is observed provided the primes are moderate rather than extreme or specific rather than broad in scope, like "good" or "bad" (Stapel & Koomen, 2000).

Indeed, this pattern of observations was observed when the sentences did not rhyme. In this instance, for example, exposure to words like economical or cautious increased the likelihood that Ralph was perceived as thrifty. Words like adventurous and bold, however, did not affect judgments on this attribute (Hafner & Stapel, 2010).

When the sentences rhymed, however, the pattern of observations was transformed. Even primes that were irrelevant to the attribute under consideration influenced the ratings. Words like bold, if embedded within a sentence that rhymes, increased the likelihood that individuals were perceived as thrifty rather than stingy.

According to Hafner and Stapel (2010), primes that are processed fluently are assumed to be relevant or applicable. When the word "bold" is processed fluently, this word is assumed to be germane to judgments of whether Ralph is thrifty or stingy. Because "bold" is a positive term, Ralph is regarded as thrift rather than stingy--a more desirable trait.

When other procedures were used to manipulate fluency, the same pattern of results was discovered. For example, in the second study, some participants read primes that were presented in a mixture or upper and lower case as well as a variety of fonts, which impedes fluency. Other participants read primes that appeared in uppercase and one font (cf., Reber, Wurtz, & Zimmermann, 2004) to enable fluent processing. Again, primes that were processed fluently affected judgments on unrelated attributes (Hafner & Stapel, 2010).

Beliefs about the implications of fluency

Usually, messages that comprise simple words, and are thus processed fluently, are more likely to be perceived as valid. However, exceptions have been discovered. For example, in the marketing literature, articles that comprise more infrequent words tend to be cited more often (Stremersch, Verniers, & Verhoef, 2007).

As Galak and Nelson (2010) argue, according to many individuals, material that is supposed to be enjoyable, like short stories or magazines, should probably be simple. Nobody wants to grapple with these forms of writing. Material that is processed fluently is assumed to be simple and, therefore, is regarded as appropriate--that is, as elevated in quality.

However, material that is supposed to be informative, like textbooks, encyclopedias, and research reports, should probably be difficult and complex. That is, such complexity implies the material might be illuminating. Such material, if processed fluently, is assumed to be simple rather than difficult and, hence, inappropriate instead of suitable.

Galak and Nelson (2010) undertook a series of studies to assess this proposition. In the first study, participants were exposed to a list of reading modes, such as novels, short stories, poems, textbooks, encyclopedias, and research reports. For each mode, they specified the degree to which they read items to enjoy themselves rather than to seek information. In addition, they indicated the degree to which they feel exemplary works are complex or simple to read. If modes were perceived as enjoyable, rather than informative, participants felt that exemplary works should be simple. For example, short stories were perceived as enjoyable instead of informative. Furthermore, exemplary short stories were assumed to be simple. If modes were perceived as informative, participants felt that exemplary works should be difficult.

In subsequent studies, participants read various excerpts. Fluency was then manipulated, either by varying the font size or by asking some people to furrow the brow--a muscular contraction that is associated with difficulties in reading and thus limited fluency. If fluency was primed, either because the font size was large or the brow was not furrowed, short stories were rated as higher in quality. However, if limited fluency was primed instead, historical works were rated as higher in quality. Therefore, for works that are not expected to be enjoyable to read, fluency can actually compromise the perceived quality of work.

Limited quality

Usually, items that can be processed fluently and effortlessly are perceived as desirable. However, in some circumstances--especially when people strive to identify the best item--items that are processed fluently and effortlessly are perceived as undesirable. Over time, individuals learn the best items are often difficult to secure. They associate quality with effort (Kim & Labroo, 2011).

To illustrate, in one study, single and heterosexual men were instructed to evaluate the extent to which they perceived a photographed woman as attractive. The photograph was either clear or blurry. If the men were confident in their capacity to attract women, and tend to reflect upon whether any woman they are flirting with is the best, they were more likely to evaluate the blurry photograph as attractive. The effort that was needed to observe the photograph evoked a favorable appraisal. In contrast, if the men were not confident in their ability to attract women, and merely reflect upon whether any woman they are flirting with is nice, they were more likely to evaluate the clear photograph as attractive (Kim & Labroo, 2011).

In another study, participants were first asked to list either three or seven ways they could help children. Presumably, if they list seven avenues, they no longer focus their attention on the best possibilities. Next, participants were granted an opportunity to donate money to a charity that supports children. The donation box was either quite accessible or quite inaccessible. If participants had listed only three ways they could help children--and, therefore, were more likely to focus their attention on the best avenues--they were more inclined to donate money when the donation box was quite inaccessible. If participants had listed seven ways they could help children, they were more likely to donate money when the donation box was quite accessible.

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