Errol Morris' quiz about killer asteroids was a secret experiment to find out how fonts affect our thinking

Remember Errol Morris' New York Times quiz about being an optimist or a pessimist about killer asteroids? It turns out the quiz wasn't really about being an optimist or a pessimist. It was about how fonts affect people's thinking. The quiz was presented in five different fonts, and the frequency of the answers were compared to the fonts in which the questions were asked.

We all know that we are influenced in many, many ways — many of which we remain blissfully unaware of. Could fonts be one of them? Could the mere selection of a font influence us to believe one thing rather than another? Could fonts 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 font 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 79 if we read it in Georgia, the font of The New York Times online, rather than in Helvetica?


Results from the asteroid quiz:



Morris concludes: "Comic Sans has the lowest rate of agreement, and one of the highest rates of disagreement."

Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One)