Content Psychology 101: What happens when we read?

Estimated reading time
3 minutes
16th February 2022
Author: Ellen Montgomery
Posted in: Content Production, Psychology & Science

The human mind works in mysterious and fascinating ways. While it is a common misconception that humans only use 10% of our brain capacity, the brain itself can hold 2.5 petabytes of memory. If it were a computer, that would equate to 2.5 million gigabytes of memory.

Surprisingly, in all of this, our brains are not ‘hard wired’ to process the written word. However, the first attempts of written communication utilized the brain’s ability to recognize ‘real’ objects, exploiting these skills in order to convey a message.

What happens when we read?

Anthropologically, visual presentations of information are easier to remember. Firstly, we identify the squiggles and symbols that form letters. Over time, these symbolic letters have become recognized as alphabets.

Secondly, we join these letters together to form words. Words have associated meanings. It is at this point that the human brain starts to visualize the words. As a result, the brain builds a picture, without us even being aware of it.

Read: The bear ate honey.

When you read that sentence, your brain works to identify the key concepts in the sentence and the relationship between them. This subconsciously generates a visualization in the mind, helping you to understand what has been read.

You may have visualized a bear in the wild, pawing at a hive surrounded by bees. Alternatively, you may have envisioned a cartoon, yellow bear wearing a red shirt, sitting at a table with their whole face wedged into the honey pot. Both are equally valid visualizations.

Writing with imagery is 6.5 times easier to recall, in comparison to words alone. This is because images can help the brain in the process of interpreting meaning. Further to this, we are more inclined to agree with something visually pleasing – a factor that advertisers frequently take advantage of.

Open vs Closed Minds 

The human mind can be open or closed. Characterized by complexity, stress, and pressures, the closed mode can be how people feel at work. In closed mode, it is almost impossible for our brains to comprehend new ideas.

In contrast, the open mode is characterized by relaxation and being free from distractions. In open mode, you can focus on the task in hand. The mind is open to new ideas, concepts and possibilities.

For marketers and content creators, it’s important people are in open mode. Then, people can receptively evaluate material. Highly visual content experiences can help in this evaluation process. Not only are people more likely to engage with content if it is visually appealing, but it is far more impactful and memorable as well.

The medium is the message

Deliberately paradoxical and coined by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan in 1964, ‘the medium is the message’ essentially refers to the importance of how a message is communicated. You can completely change how someone views something based on how you present it.

person reading open book

Properly optimized messages can engage, entertain, inform, resonate, and keep readers engaged for longer. A great example of this is an employment contract or tenancy agreement. If you received a 30-page document in 12pt Comic Sans you would be skeptical of its sincerity. 

Think about the mediums we use to distribute content online. Are these mediums properly optimized for the task? Or are they old habits that have never really been changed?

Interactive content experiences

Same words + better medium = improved results.

87% of marketers say interactive content outperforms static content. A PDF encourages readers to quickly digest as much information as possible and then get on with their day. However, when you offer readers an immersive experience, you take readers out of their everyday lives by sending them on a voyage of discovery. 

Unique design tools, interesting layouts and, visual interactions can all help to create an ‘oasis of calm’. As a result, readers have a better understanding of the message.

To further your understanding of this very message, click the Turtl Doc below for more on how interactive content can help your business.

Click to read Content Psychology 101

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