Captions on video?

Captions on Danish and foreign business videos have become the norm very quickly. But is it really worth the effort with subtitles on your video? Or are they ruining your message? The answer probably surprises most people.


Does the brain get overworked with captions?

When you watch movies and read subtitles at the same time, all logic says that your brain is being put to work. Because the brain has to relate to communication through different sensory channels (eyes and ears) and several different parallel sources of information (read text, heard language, facial expressions, action, surroundings, colors and more).

Logically we should therefore expect that there will be a trade-off between visual processing and processing of subtitles. If the brain uses more cognitive resources dedicated to processing subtitles, then the visual processing will be less effective (and vice versa), right?

Bent in neon

Against all odds, recent research shows that the opposite is true. When we watch video, the distribution of attention between different information channels is quite effortless. Our brain has developed a strategy that allows it to do visual decoding, text decoding and auditory decoding at the same time and without problems. The brain jumps around effortlessly – and selects the information that makes the most sense. At the same time, all research shows that people who are used to reading subtitles do so completely without thinking about it – it’s that easy.

Where do we look – and how long?

If you know a little about how we read and use our eyes, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of saccades. Saccades are rapid simultaneous movements of both eyes through multiple focal points. They enable us to scan our surroundings quickly and efficiently – and create clear still images. And it’s exactly the same thing that happens when we read – and when we read subtitles.

Related: Read more in our book

Eye-tracking studies of how we watch movies with subtitles show that viewers spend between 37-67 percent of fixation time to examine the area with subtitles on the screen, while the remaining focus time is spent on the top area of the screen. Here we look mostly at faces and expressions. But that does not mean that meaning is lost when we read subtitles.

In fact, studies show that subtitles can often help to raise awareness of the content and message of a film. Especially if the movie you are watching is in a language you are not that strong in speaking. Here, the translation of the caption works wonders. However, there may be a minor barrier to whether we are reading our native language or in a foreign language. But most people quickly get over that hurdle with a little practice. In this way, subtitles and their quick way of translating the spoken word can e.g. be a great way to learn a new language.

Is quality of captions an issue?

Good captions follow the flow of the film and what is being said in a natural way. But in fact, studies show that it does not matter so much if the subtitle lines are divided in an unnatural way, as long as the subtitles have a natural length and are divided into correct words.

That means it is a bad idea to cram too much text together on one line or to change lines of text too often. Because our eyes read in quick fixations and quickly form an image of the subtitles. Therefore, they should preferably not change as often.

Different ways of doing subs

There are different ways of doing subs, we actually distinguish between “closed captions” and “subtitles” even though both terms more or less serve the same purpose. Closed caption capture all dialogue at the same time as these types of texts also describe background noise, music and other sounds that are essential to a movie or video. Normal subtitles, on the other hand, reproduce only spoken words, dialogue and speak.

That’s why you should use subtitles

If the above should not be enough reason to choose the subtitles, then a quick Google search can tell you that 85 percent of all videos on Facebook are viewed without audio. The same is more or less the case on all other social media like Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter.

It should also be mentioned that over half of all online videos are viewed on mobile. Which means that there is a good chance that your receiver is moving fast and does not intend to spend time “listening” to your video. So if your videos is targeted social media, then you should always use subtitles.

Related: Drawings speak to your brain

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