Positive display polarity is advantageous for both younger and older adults

Ergonomics. 2013;56(7):1116-24. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2013.790485. Epub 2013 May 8.


The effect of display polarity on visual acuity and proofreading performance was investigated for younger and older adults. An advantage of positive polarity (dark characters on light background) over negative polarity (light characters on dark background) was expected for younger adults, but the effects on older adults were ambiguous. Light scatter due to residues in the senescent lens and vitreous humour could reverse the typical advantage of positive polarity. However, age-related changes lead to a decline in retinal illuminance. Brighter positive polarity displays should help to compensate for this decline and, accordingly, lead to better performance than darker negative polarity displays. Participants conducted a visual acuity test with black optotypes on white background or white optotypes on black background and performed a proofreading task in the same polarity. A positive polarity advantage was found for both age groups. The presentation in positive polarity is recommended for all ages.

Practitioner summary: In an ageing society, age-related vision changes need to be considered when designing digital displays. Visual acuity testing and a proofreading task revealed a positive polarity advantage for younger and older adults. Dark characters on light background lead to better legibility and are strongly recommended independent of observer's age.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Data Display*
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Middle Aged
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Visual Acuity / physiology*
  • Young Adult