bullshit, bullshit detection, dual-process theories, analytic thinking, supernatural beliefs, religiosity, conspiratorial ideation, complementary and alternative medicine.
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.
Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences
School of Humanities and Creativity
Judgment and Decision Making
Peer Reviewed/Refereed Publication
Funding for this study was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
The Ig Nobel Board of Governers awards the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of Peace to Nathaniel Barr and his team of scholars for their work on the research study “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.”
Copyright: © 2015. The authors license this article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Original Publication Citation
Pennycook, G., Cheyne J. A., Barr, N., Koehler, D. J., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2015) On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making, 10(6), 549-563. http://journal.sjdm.org/15/15923a/jdm15923a.pdf
Barr, Nathaniel; Pennycook, Gordon; Cheyne, James Allen; Koehler, Derek J.; and Fugelsang, Jonathan A., "On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-profound Bullshit" (2015). Faculty Publications and Scholarship. 1.