NCBI ROFL: Times New Roman may be funnier than Arial, but why does Comic Sans make me want to kill myself?

By ncbi rofl | May 5, 2010 7:41 pm

letteraEmotional and persuasive perception of fonts.

“The aim of this study was to explore the latent affective and persuasive meaning attributed to text when appearing in two commonly used fonts. Two satirical readings were selected from the New York Times. These readings (one addressing government issues, the other education policy) were each printed in Times New Roman and Arial fonts of the same size and presented in randomized order to 102 university students, who ranked the readings on a number of adjective descriptors. Analysis showed that satirical readings in Times New Roman were perceived as more funny and angry than those in Arial, the combination of emotional perception which is congruent with the definition of satire. This apparent interaction of font type with emotional qualities of text has implications for marketing, advertising, and the persuasive literature.”


Photo: flickr/micahdowty

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  • ARJ

    WTF! (…What the font!)
    Now they just have a few thousand more they need to test out.

  • Cattfish

    what kind of correlation are we talking?

  • Grammastola

    It might be because we are more used to reading Times New Roman, and will be able to concentrate on the subject matter more than with a font we are less familiar with.

  • Doug

    I’m thinking that the addition of serifs adds an air of formality to the writing. Since they focused on satirical writings, I think that a serif font has a more educated look, and would therefore present itself more as the biting commentary of a member of the intelligentsia as opposed to Joe Lunchbox’s hand-scrawled rantings.

  • Saffron

    Great! More T.N.R. everywhere… ugh. Heck, even a digital LED font is far less annoying.

  • qbsmd

    I notice that the headline here is a sans serif font, and the article is a serif, and I’m getting the opposite correlation here.

  • jeremy swinfen green

    Presumably this work was done using text printed on standard office-type paper. It would be interesting to know whether the same results would obtain if the pieces of text were printed on a coated art paper – where the sans serif face would be more readable, and if they were read on a screen – where again you would expect the sans face to be more readable.

  • Phoesune

    TNR is more difficult to read and thus increases stress while reading, thus increasing the emotional response. At least, that is my guess.

  • kate

    Graphic designers have known this since the advent of fonts… But I guess now we have science to back it up.

  • P Smith

    I don’t like Arial but I will use it. However, I detest Times New Roman.

    Courier New is my preferred font, and not because it’s monospaced. I grew up with typewriters and like the look. To me, there’s a warmth in the font, almost as if the writer is speaking personally to the reader, similar to the way typed and handwritten letters used to be – even if it’s viewed on a screen.

    “Modern” fonts appear to me to be less personal and less friendly.

  • articulett

    I heard that Century Gothic is the font to use if the goal is to save printer ink:

  • Midnight Rambler

    Century Gothic saves ink because the letters are so narrow, and so packed together, that they’re annoying to read.

    P Smith – I *dislike* Courier New for the exact same reason you seem to like it; I’d like to have a monospace font that looks like typewriter font, but it doesn’t look like that. The serifs are way too big, for one thing.

  • Rob

    Serifs serve a useful purpose in dense text: they guide the eye along each line. Sans-serif fonts tend to be better where small, readable type is needed, as in ingredient lists on food labels, and where type is at low resolution, as on PowerPoint slides. In PowerPoint, some strokes in Times New Roman can be lost unless the lettering is quite large, whereas Helvetica/Arial doesn’t have that problem even when the text is improperly small.

  • LMA

    hahaha… I completely understand how the socially-formalized Times New Roman makes a satirical writing seem more, well, satirical: it’s like imagining a really geeky university professor standing on a stage and cracking jokes at the illogical stupidity of other people – especially if his logic is not the kind that requires a Ph.D.

    Arial makes me kinda nutty, but for those times when I want an easily-read, narrow font, I definitely like Arial Narrow. It squeezes into tiny spaces, like charts, graphs, and handmade visuals without the overlapping that often happens when you simply adjust the character spacing options.

    To blog title-r: what’s wrong with Comic Sans? I know that it’s very kiddy, but like most fonts, there’s a practical application. I’m an ESL teacher in Japan and I work with elementary and Jr. high students. I really like Comic Sans because it imitates penmanship (compare to the Times New Roman ‘a’ or ‘g’). Still, I would never use it for a dissertation (unless I really wanted to insult my professor’s intelligence!). :)

  • Ning

    I like TNR quite a bit, but not as much as some fonts. I have a fondness for old books and so faces like TNR, Bookman Antiqua, Georgia and Palatino appeal to me. I’m not fond of Arial, except for Arial Narrow – which is just too useful for squeezing into tight places. Arial seems like a poor mans Helvetica. To me Helvetica is the King of Sans Serif!

  • Anonymous Coward

    Why did they have to compare the worst representatives of both font genres? And why was the study limited to just one genre of text: satire? How could we deduce from this whether serifs make text funnier or whether they make they the original intent come across?

  • Ari

    Times New Roman (or indeed, serif fonts in general) are easier to read when any larger amount of text is involved. As a commenter above mentions, the function of the serifs is to create a guiding line for the eyes.
    Sans-serif fonts can be quite a bit better when single lines of text are being shown, or small text amounts. As soon as you go above two lines (and even more so if the lines are also wide) then a serif font is the way to go.

    So the hypothesis that the increased strength of the satire might be because people could focus more on the content of the text instead of trying to follow the text is quite possible. As is the “TNR is more formal, giving the satire more authenticity” idea.

    I would say that further study is required of the phenomenon to ascertain WHY those results arose.

    As for the “I hate that font” debate.. use a good font for the purpose. TNR is good for printed text, Georgia (also a serif font) performs better for on-screen reading (width is not an issue, backlighting) while TNR is good for getting more text on each line (ok, not a lot). Sans-serif fonts (like Arial and Helvetica) are good for headings, image text, signs, logos, etc. Not for your term paper, research proposal, CV, or longer professional communications.

  • Alaine Warters

    Which is some inspirational stuff. Certainly not knew that opinions might be this varied. Cheers for every one with the enthusiasm to provide you such extremely important info in this content.


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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl


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