On The Reception And Detection Of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit

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“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”
~ Harry Frankfurt

Our award for “Best Journal Paper of 2015” goes to The Society for Judgment and Decision Making (yes, there really is such a thing), for the paper published in November entitled On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit (also available as PDF). Here’s the abstract:

Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”). Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements. These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. Our results also suggest that a bias toward accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity.

Full paper: Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015

 

 

 

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