Using long words does not make you look more intelligent

Students should read this paper!

Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 20: 139–156 (2006)
Published online 31 October 2005 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/acp.1178

Most texts on writing style encourage authors to avoid overly-complex words. However, a majority of undergraduates admit to deliberately increasing the complexity of their vocabulary so as to give the impression of intelligence. This paper explores the extent to which this strategy is effective. Experiments 1–3 manipulate complexity of texts and find a negative relationship between complexity and judged intelligence. This relationship held regardless of the quality of the original essay, and irrespective of the participants’ prior expectations of essay quality.

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