Positive display polarity is particularly advantageous for small character sizes: implications for display design

Hum Factors. 2014 Aug;56(5):942-51. doi: 10.1177/0018720813515509.


Objective: To test the display luminance hypothesis of the positive polarity advantage and gain insights for display design, the joint effects of display polarity and character size were assessed with a proofreading task

Background: Studies have shown that dark characters on light background (positive polarity) lead to better legibility than do light characters on dark background (negative polarity), presumably due to the typically higher display luminance of positive polarity presentations.

Method: Participants performed a proofreading task with black text on white background or white text on black background. Texts were presented in four character sizes (8, 10, 12, and 14 pt; corresponding to 0.22 degrees, 0.25 degrees, 0.31 degrees, and 0.34 degrees of vertical visual angle).

Results: A positive polarity advantage was observed in proofreading performance. Importantly, the positive polarity advantage linearly increased with decreasing character size.

Conclusion: The findings are in line with the assumption that the typically higher luminance of positive polarity displays leads to an improved perception of detail. Application: The implications seem important for the design of text on such displays as those of computers, automotive control and entertainment systems, and smartphones that are increasingly used for the consumption of text-based media and communication. The sizes of these displays are limited, and it is tempting to use small font sizes to convey as much information as possible. Especially with small font sizes, negative polarity displays should be avoided.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Data Display*
  • Ergonomics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reading*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult