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You Probably Can’t Draw This Letter From Memory

You Probably Can’t Draw This Letter From Memory
[Source Image: Johns Hopkins University]

How much does the way we write affect the way we read type? A team of cognitive scientists from Johns Hopkins University have discovered that remarkably few people remember the shape of the lowercase loop-tail “g,” even though we’ve all seen it millions of times. Don’t believe them? Stop reading right now and watch this video:

If you failed the test, you’re not alone. The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, reports that only seven people of 25 participants, or about 28%, succeeded in identifying the correct shape.

The research team asked 38 adults which letters have two lowercase forms, and only two named the letter “g.” Of those, only one knew how to write it in both forms. Some people even challenged the researchers, insisting that there was only one “g” to rule them all. Next, the researchers asked 16 more people to read a single paragraph containing 14 words with the looptail “g” aloud. Yet, when asked to reproduce the “g”–which they had just read 14 times–only one did it right. Eight drew the regular, open-tail “g” we all learned to write in school. That’s probably the most logical explanation, according to Dr. Michael McCloskey, senior author of the study. He believes that we can’t remember the lowercase looptail “g” because it isn’t taught.

This results may seem fun and silly, yet the scientists say they raise significant questions about the changing nature of reading, writing, and letters themselves. Since our knowledge of letters seems to suffer when we don’t handwrite them, will kids who communicate largely by keyboards–with help from predictive tools–have problems recognizing letters and reading proficiently? The Johns Hopkins team doesn’t have an answer yet, but to me, younger generations’ decreasing knowledge of handwriting is a big problem.

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