Here’s a riddle for you: if a bat and a ball cost $1.10, and the bat cost $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost? If you’re anything like the students at Harvard University, than 63% of you would have said $0.10 and this is the wrong answer, the correct answer to this question is $0.05, but it’s not your fault, according to researchers, for 65% of you, it’s the font you’re reading the question on. The font we choose for our website has a profound influence in what cognitive system our readers are using to consume our content.

The Two Systems In Our Brain

The human brain uses two systems of learning, System one and System two. System one is what some call the lizard brain; some call it the lazy part of our brains, it’s quick, intuitive and effortless.

System two, on the other hand, is slow, analytical and effortful. Most of the time our brains are operating on system one thinking, it’s what helps us recognize faces and solve easy problems, and it’s also the thing that makes us answer $0.10 to the bat and ball problem instead of $0.05.

This question is one of three that Professor Shane Frederick from Yale University designed to test how well participants could suppress their initial reaction, in other words, their system one thinking. In his research, he found that only 17% of participants answered all three questions correctly.

Other researchers have found that the worse you do on these three questions, the more prone you are to cognitive bias. Cognitive biases are decisions and judgments that are conducted without any foundational information.

So how do fonts play a role? When participants were given the same three questions in a harder to read font, like Monotype Corsiva or Comic Sans Italicized rather than Arial or Times New Roman, 65% of participants got all three answers correct.

Researchers from Princeton University and Indiana University conducted an experiment in a public school in Ohio. They asked teachers to switch up the fonts used in their worksheets and powerpoint presentations for six of the student’s subjects. In their experiment, they found that students with harder to read fonts scored significantly higher than those students with easier to read fonts. This is because cognitive strain will force the brain to switch to system two, so in the experiment with the students, researchers used a harder to read font to increase cognitive strain and therefore forced the students in the experiment to use their system two.

How To Use System One and System Two In Sales and Marketing?

So how does this affect your sales and conversions? Well, by choosing which part of your prospect’s brain (system one or system two), you would like to appeal to you can appropriately trigger a reaction.

For instance, if you would like to seem more trustworthy and credible, try to stay in the lazy brain (system one) of your prospect, use easy to read fonts, keep things simple and don’t make your prospect work to accomplish the tasks you want them to accomplish. However, if you’re selling a recurring product or service, like a membership or a retainer, then you might want to trigger the system two part of the brain. Researchers have found that cognitive and physical strain can lead to a higher dedication to the end goal. This effect is called cognitive dissonance.

What Is Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the idea that if someone acts one way but believes another way, it will cause tension. Since we can’t change what we’ve done, according to cognitive dissonance, in order to relieve the tension we need to do one of three things.

  • Change what we believe
  • Change our future actions
  • Change our perception of the action

Change What We Believe

What we believe is how we make decisions, organize and structure our lives, this is amongst the hardest of the three to change, it is our core values, it is in essence what makes us-us, although we change what we believe quite often, as we grow older and experience new things, we don’t just flip a switch and become another person. There are micro beliefs or perceptions that we have toward things that we’re relatively agnostic about. It’s not a belief we associate our identity with and therefore much easier to change. Enough of these micro decisions can lead to a bigger belief being changed.

Change Our Future Actions

The second, and probably most common, is the change in future action. The promise to yourself that you’ll do better next time or that you’ll never do that again.

Change Our Perception Of The Action

The third is to change our perception of the action to match our belief. This is more complex, where you view or remember your actions differently to match what you believe. This can also be considered as those micro decisions that can lead to a change in what you believe, e.g. “I didn’t care about that anyways, even though it was sold out, when I saw it in person it was old and rusty so I don’t care that I couldn’t get it”, these are things we tell ourselves to feel better about the actions we’ve taken.


Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, conducted an experiment where he and his team would get participants to perform a boring task for a long period of time and then tell another participant who was a confederate of the experimenter that the task was exciting. In this experiment, 50% of participants were paid $20, and 50% were paid only $1 to complete the task.

If we were to look at this situation we might come to the assumption that the participants that got paid $20 would like the task more than the participants who received only $1, but because of cognitive dissonance, Festinger, found the opposite to be true. Because the participants who got paid $20 could justify their actions with the money, they rated the tasks to be boring. But to the participants who got paid only $1, they rated the task as enjoyable. These participants could not justify their actions for only $1, so instead, to relieve their tension and justify their actions they needed to either change what they believe, change their future actions or change their perception of the action.

How To Use Cognitive Dissonance With System One and System Two In Sales And Marketing

If your prospect does work to become a client but does not become a client, and has no reason to not become a client, then a dissonance will occur, and this mismatch in action will create tension. But in order for this to work you first need to use the system one brain to create a dissonance in the system two brain toward every and all objections. If you change their actions, then their perception and belief will follow.

Your first step is to use your prospects system one brain to get them to take an action. This could be reading a blog post, white paper, etc., from there you want to ask them for the next stage. If you provide enough value in your first step then your prospect’s system two should not trigger yet. The more they consume, the more they are telling themselves that what you’re providing is valuable to them. And the more value they are getting from you, the more dissonance you’re creating when you go for the sale. At that point, they need to believe that your offer will bring value to them, how can they not believe this? They’ve been telling themselves this through their actions every time they consume your content.

But making the sale is much more than the prospect believing that your offering is valuable, it’s also about then believing that they can be your customer or client, for that to happen you need to make them a customer or client without triggering their system two brain. How? By using something of extreme value at a ridiculously low price, $1 – $5 for something that could be $300 or even $500+. When selecting your lower number, use an uneven number, it will appear as if there was reasoning, thought and calculation behind the number.

What this offer will do is start the process of the prospect creating their own dissonance, and shifting their belief from “not a client” to “a client”. All while not triggering the system two brain, or to only trigger their system two brain to reference their dissonance, and justify to themselves that they should take this next step. How are you not triggering the system two brain in the purchasing of an offering? Remember that the system one brain is lazy, we don’t like using the system two if we don’t have to. So, simple math like (1+1 = 2) is generally done by the system one brain because it is so easy to answer. Likewise, if something is worth $300 – $500+ and is offered to you for $5, then it’s a very easy decision and one that can be done by the system one brain. Because you added so much value and anyone can see that the price is ridiculously low, this decision is what they call a “no-brainer” but should really be called a “no system two brainer”.

This is not manipulation; you’re simply helping your prospects relieve the anxiety of purchasing from you, because you first need to be able to add value, or else you’ll lose their system one brain’s attention and no dissonance will be created.

What you’re essentially doing through this process is moulding your prospect’s cognitive biases in your favour. If they believe that you are valuable and that it’s not uncommon for them to purchase what you sell, then they never have to go into their system two brain other than to evaluate their cognitive dissonance, and the purchase should be instinctual.
If done right, by the end of this process, purchasing your product or service should feel like the logical next step to the prospect, if your prospect does not purchase the offering, then the dissonance will create tension, all starting with some simple fonts on a page.

Sources Cognitive reflection test –
Cognitive reflection test and cognitive biases –
Font in cognitive reflection test –
Fonts in school –
Fonts and cognitive strain –

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