The secret to telling a believable lie is simple.
University of Otago psychology PhD student Helen Owen has
found people who use short simple sentences are perceived as
being more honest - information which could be helpful for
politicians and people wanting to get away with telling
Ms Owen's research involved testing the response to sentences
of varying complexity. The study's participants were asked to
judge how honest they thought the writer was being.
''What we found is simple use of language is associated with
perceived honesty,'' she said.
This was especially the case if people described how they
felt about the topic they were discussing.
The results had many applications and not just for liars but
for people writing CVs and politicians trying to get messages
across to voters.
One person who she felt could benefit from keeping it simple
was Labour leader David Cunliffe, who was known for his
''He could be selling himself short a wee bit,'' she said.
An example not to follow was former United States president
Bill Clinton's famous denial he was having an affair with
White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
This was a bad lie on multiple counts, firstly because
calling Ms Lewinsky ''that woman'' created distance between
himself and the situation.
Mr Clinton also ''rambled on a bit'' and was repetitive -
something commonly associated with lying.
Ms Owen said people were more inclined to believe simple
sentences due to a concept called ''cognitive fluency''.
''So, when something is easy to understand it produces a
positive emotional response in the listener.''
This did not necessarily mean people who kept things simple
were telling the truth, as there were good liars and,
conversely, truthful people who did themselves a disservice
through the types of language they used.
How to sound honest
• Keep it simple.
• Describe how you feel
• Avoid long meaningless words