Monday, April 30, 2012
Thursday, April 12, 2012
In 2010 a team of psychologists from Princeton University published a study in the journal Cognition, testing the hypothesis that presenting new information in a difficult to read font could lead to more thorough retention. Their aim was for practical application in the education system, but I think their findings connote a much broader life-theme...
The researchers had two groups of students study made-up facts about aliens (to ensure there was no advantage from prior knowledge). The control group read the information in a clear font, while the test group read the same information in a more obscure, lightened font. Upon quizzing the subjects later, the group with the more obscure font did approximately 14% better. Thus, the researchers concluded that "more cognitive engagement leads to deeper processing, which facilitates encoding and subsequently better retrieval."
On reading this I wondered- outside the classroom, how else is this reflected in human existence?
“For anything worth having one must pay a price; and the price is always work, patience, love, self-sacrifice-- no paper currency, no promises to pay, but the gold of real service.” -John Burroughs
I remember studying in Spain and adjusting to life as a foreigner. Despite my textbook competency, I lacked the conversational mastery of the language that would allow me to speak with fluidity and ease when I first arrived; communication consisted of well-constructed yet emotionally hollow sentences. I remember wanting to shout: “I have a personality I swear! I know I sound like a vapid 5 year old, but in my language I have interesting things to say!” It was like some bizarre trap being so restrained by my inability to articulate thoroughly.
When speaking a second language before fluency, your words are few and as such, more precious. Without the luxury of myriad words at our thoughtless disposal, expression must always be deliberate. Language can be such a gorgeous thing, but we can (and often do) take advantage of or abuse it when allowed unbridled access to it. In the aforementioned research, the hard-to-read fonts prompted more mindful reading and improved retention, just as being reduced to the elementary basics in a new language demands deliberation, producing thought-full communication.
This is obviously not a novel concept, it’s woven throughout a legion of stories, quotes, and proverbs; nevertheless I continue to find the broad-sweeping relevancy of this idea so intriguing. Reducing the accessibility of something inevitably forces increased effort to obtain it, and therefore produces more meaningful or valuable outcomes: So are we promised a measurable payoff if we intentionally seek experiences that require work? Certainly not. But whether or not we are met by great reward at the end of any great effort, there is merit, dignity, and always a soul-benefit, if not a tangible one, in choosing to pursue things that demand your attention and energy. Endeavor to chase something greater than what is handed to you freely, do not settle but strive, roll up your sleeves and undertake the mysterious work of living.