Behavioral Science

Using Big Words Makes You Feel Smart but Look Stupid

by . October 17th, 2014

Everyone knows that being clear is really the most important part about communication.

bigwords2
szolkin
After all, it’s about getting your point across. However, we can all remember that one person that tried to sound smart by using big words. This is most common in text books, which is probably why a lot of us hated school. In fact, over a hundred Stanford students were asked about this, and a lot of them said they used big words to sound more ahead.

It makes sense though. Large vocabularies means you know more. More importantly, you know something someone else doesn’t. So showing off that you know these words should make you look smart. But does it really?

Princeton University wanted to find out, so they ran 5 experiments back in 2005.

The first experiment was done by giving students different essays to grade. Each student was given one essay, and all the essays basically said the same thing. They were just written differently. Some used the longest words possible. Some used the shortest words possible, Then there was the one left alone.

The one with the shortest words was given the highest grade.

bigwords1
jamestarbotton
With the second experiment, students were given one of two translations of Meditation IV by Descartes. They differed in clarity but were just as long as one another. The students were also not told who wrote them and had to judge the author’s intelligence on a scale.

The students that were given the more complex reading thought of Descartes dumber than the ones given the simpler text.

And the rest of the tests had similar results: big complex words makes you look dumb and mean. Five extremely similar tests using different sets of people, all with the same results.

When someone talks in a language you know, but in a way you don’t get, you don’t think of them as smart. You think of them as uncaring or not smart enough to know that you don’t get it.

Also remember that people won’t buy what they don’t understand. You are losing sales.
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