Researchers find a 1:1 correlation
Which of these passages is easier to understand?
|Abstract||Character cannot be summoned in a crisis if it has been squandered by years of compromise and excuses. The only testing ground for the heroic is the mundane. There is only one preparation for that great decision that can change a life. It is those hundreds of half conscious, self-defining, seemingly insignificant decisions made in private.|
|Concrete||Think twice before buying another “convenience.” Grandmother’s kitchen had a pan, spoon and a knife. It produced a Sunday dinner of roast chicken, potatoes, salad, vegetables and apple pie. The kitchen of the 1990s contains a food processor, blender, laser-cut knife system and a 20-piece cookware set that produces a Sunday dinner of microwave pizza.|
Two professors from Texas A&M University and one from the University of the Andes aimed to find out whether concrete or abstract information was more:
First, the professors crafted a series of passages. Each passage was about 56 words long and written at about the same level of readability. Half the passages were abstract; the other half, concrete.
Then they asked 40 graduate students to read the passages and rate them for such qualities as how interesting and easy to understand they were.
The students rated the concrete copy more understandable and interesting. In fact, there was almost a 1:1 correlation between how concrete a passage was and how easy it was to understand, the researchers said.
Concrete headlines more understandable
Next, the researchers wrote a series of abstract and concrete headlines for each of the 56-word passages. They included:
|Abstract headline||Concrete headline|
|Domestic Devices||Countertop Gadgets|
|Preferred Items||Favorite Junk|
|The Laws of Lift||How a Plane Flies|
|A Science Find||Jungles in Ice|
|Mortal Justice||Death Penalty|
Then they asked the graduate students to rate the headlines for such qualities as how interesting and easy to understand it was.
The students rated the concrete headlines much more understandable and interesting.
Concrete copy more memorable
Finally, the researchers had another group of graduate students read the copy and headlines. After time had passed, they tried to remember it.
The students remembered:
- The concrete text with concrete headlines best of all
- The concrete text with abstract headlines second best
- The abstract text, regardless of title, least
In fact, the students remembered the concrete text 70 percent better than the abstract text.
Bottom line: Concrete material was more understandable, interesting and easy to remember than abstract information.
The researchers write: “Using more concrete language and content should have positive effects in making … text more comprehensible, interesting and memorable.”
Source: Mark Sadoski, Ernest T. Goetz and Maximo Rodriguez, “Engaging Texts: Effects of Concreteness on Comprehensibility, Interest, and Recall in Four Text Types,” Journal of Educational Psychology 92 (2000): 85-95