Processing Fluency Theory

The processing fluency theory originated in cognitive psychology and has been developed and studied by various researchers over the years. It has grown out of the broader field of cognitive psychology and information processing. Kahneman and Tversky (1984) discussed the relationship between decision and experience values. While they did not explicitly formulate processing fluency theory with postulates, the core idea of processing ease and its influence provided a blueprint for future research, laying the foundation for understating the cognitive process and decision-making.

The processing fluency theory researches the relationship between the ease or difficulty of processing stimuli and people’s attitudes about these stimuli. Processing fluency is the subjective ease with which a stimulus is processed (Reber et al., 2004). Processing fluency exists in various domains, and it influences people’s perception, reasoning, and decision-making processes (Schwarz, 2014). For instance, repeated exposure to a stimulus result in a hedonically positive experience of processing fluency, which is sufficient to enhance affective evaluations of the stimulus (Reber et al. 1998).

The processing fluency theory has three main postulates of processing fluency theory. Firstly, there are diverse sources of processing fluency. Stimulus repetition, visual clarity, conception, and perception influence processing fluency (Tobias et al., 2020). Oppenheimer (2008) mentioned language and fonts may also influence processing fluency. Secondly, processing fluency has positive effects (Unkelbach & al., 2010). The experience of processing fluency usually positively affects successful recognition, error-free processing, and availability of appropriate knowledge structure, which explains why people prefer stimuli they can process more easily. Thirdly, spontaneous affective responses are influenced by fluency (Reber et al., 2004). People often do not process information or objects with full consciousness, and the effects of processing fluency come partly from spontaneous cognitive processes.

With the processing fluency theory guidelines, it can promote acceptance by memory, enhance communication efficiency, create a brand image, and influence decision-making. Familiar symbols, concise slogans, and clear images are all designed to ensure an advertisement leaves a lasting impression. Consumers are more likely to have a positive attitude toward a product or service if the ad content is easy to understand and remember. The processing fluency theory guides the production of advertisements to ensure that the information can be received and processed quickly by simplifying information and repetition. The brand's recognizability and goodwill will increase when consumers can easily recognize and enjoy receiving the advertising message. Fluency can influence the consumer’s judgment process, making the product seem more reliable and valuable. By simplifying the delivery of information, advertising can make a product seem easier to use, thus influencing a consumer’s buying decision.

In the research dealing with fluency theory, a series of experiments by Janiszewski and Meyvis (2001) are particularly remarkable. They showed brand logos to participants, ranging from zero to sixteen times, for one second each. These logos were either unambiguous or had multiple interpretations. Following these exposures, participants were asked to state their preferences among logos displayed for the same duration. This experiment assessed the influence of logo exposure's frequency and intricacy on consumer preferences. They fund a complex interplay between logo characteristics, the manner of presentation, and repetition in determining processing fluency. These experiments underscore the significant role of logo design in marketing strategies, demonstrating that logos' visual intricacy and how frequently they are presented are key factors in shaping how consumers perceive and interpret brand logos.

More recent research showed that when extrinsic product cues generate expectations that are consistent or congruent with each other, greater fluidity in processing the product package may lead to a more positive evaluation of the product it contains (Winkielman et al., 2015). Thus, objects differ in the fluidity with which they can be processed, and the fluidity of processing is hedonically marked. High fluidity is subjectively experienced as positive, and thus, the affective response elicited by processing fluidity feeds into aesthetic appreciation judgments.

This theory also has its limitations. There are numerous methods to manipulate processing fluency, such as altering psychological fit with self-regulatory orientations (Alter & Oppenheimer, 2009; Hong & Sternthal, 2010; Vaughn et al., 2008). It ignores some factors, such as cognitive needs or individual motivation. It is a little superficial and not very deep enough. Processing fluency is influenced by individuals’ high motivation or high risk. When someone is highly motivated, he will do it even if he does not feel fluency; When someone is high in risk, he will not do it even if he perceives fluency.

In conclusion, Processing Fluency Theory offers significant insights into how the ease of processing information influences people’s perceptions and judgments. It has widespread applications, from marketing to education, and is supported by a substantial body of research. Especially in the advertising industry, the processing fluency theory helps the advertising world to understand how to improve the effectiveness of advertisements by streamlining the processing of information, whether it is in terms of attracting attention, improving brand ratings, or boosting sales. While it has its limitations, the theory continues to be a valuable tool in understanding human cognition.


Alter, A.L., & Oppenheimer, D.M. Uniting the tribes of fluency to form a metacognitive nation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13(3) , 219-235

Hong, J., & Sternthal, B. (2010). The effects of consumer prior knowledge and processing strategies on judgments. Journal of Marketing Research, 47(2), 301-311.

Janiszewski, C., & Meyvis, T. (2001). Effects of brand logo complexity, repetition, and spacing on processing fluency and judgment. Journal of Consumer Research, 28(1), 18–32.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1984). Choices, values, and frames. American Psychologist, 39(4), 341–350.

Oppenheimer, D, M. (2008). The secret life of fluency. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(6), 237-241.

Reber, R., Winkielman, P., & Schwarz, N. (1998). Effects of perceptual fluency on affective judgments. Psychological Science, 9(1), 45-48.

Reber, R., Schwarz, N., & Winkielman, P. (2004). Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: Is beauty in the perceiver’s processing experience? Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(4), 364-382.

Schwarz, N., (2004). Metacognitive experiences in consumer judgment and decision making. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14(4), 332-348.

Tobias, V., Rita, R, S., Aurelia, T., & Michaela, W. (2020). Truth is in the mind, but beauty is in the eye: Fluency effects are moderated by a match between fluency source and judgment dimension. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 149(8), 1587-1596.

Unkelbach. C., Bayer, M., Alves, H., Koch, A., & Stahl, C. (2011). Fluency and positivity as possible causes of the truth effect. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(3), 594-602.

Vaughn, L. A., Dubovi, A. S., & Nino, N. P. (2009). Processing fluency affects behavior more strongly among people higher in trait mindfulness. Journal of Research in Personality, 47(6), 782-788.

Winkielman, P., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2001). Mind at ease puts a smile on the face: Psychophysiological evidence that processing facilitation elicits positive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(6), 989–1000.

Winkielman, P., Ziembowicz, M., & Nowak, A. (2015). The coherent and fluent mind: how unified consciousness is constructed from cross-modal inputs via integrated processing experiences. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 83.