How Receptive Are You to Bullshit?

There was an article in today’s WSJ paper that looked at the impact of our mood on decision making.

While there were some interesting findings, what really caught my eye was mention of something known as the bullshit recpetivity scale.

Behavioral scientist Gordon Pennycook and colleagues have conducted many studies of people’s reactions to meaningless, pseudo-profound statements generated by assembling randomly selected nouns and verbs from the sayings of popular gurus. The propensity to find such statements profound is a trait known as “bullshit receptivity.”

Who could resist looking further into somethign with such an intriguing name?

So with the help of Google, I came across the following article: On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshitfrom the November, 2015 issue of Judgment and Decision Making.

Here is part of 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. (this sounds remarkably close to how I would describe my blog posts).

But what i was really intersted in was seeing the bullshit statements that were used in the study.

And before I show those to you, I thought you might find this interesting/humorous. Here is an exceprt from the study on how such statements were created:

Ten novel meaningless statements were derived from two websites and used to create a Bullshit Receptivity (BSR) scale. The first, http://wisdomofchopra.com, constructs meaningless statements with appropriate syntactic structure by randomly mashing together a list of words used in Deepak Chopra’s tweets (e.g., “Imagination is inside exponential space time events”). The second, “The New Age Bullshit Generator” (http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/), works on the same principle but uses a list of profound-sounding words compiled by its author, Seb Pearce.

I kept the links to the two sites as active in case you want to have some fun, especially with good old Deepak. I checked out both sites, and there are some quite profound, albeit bullshit, statements that are generated.

But let’s get back to the study. Here are the statements that were used:

  • Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty
  • Good health imparts reality to subtle creativity.
  • Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena.
  • The future explains irrational facts.
  • Imagination is inside exponential space time events.
  • We are in the midst of a self-aware blossoming of being that will align us with the nexus itself.
  • Consciousness consists of frequencies of quantum energy. “Quantum” means an unveiling of the
    unrestricted.
  • Consciousness is the growth of coherence, and of us.
  • We are in the midst of a high-frequency blossoming of interconnectedness that will give us
    access to the quantum soup itself.
  • Today, science tells us that the essence of nature is joy.

The results indicated that the participants largely failed to detect that the statements are bullshit.

Another study tested the possibility that some people may be particularly insensitive to pseudo-profound bullshit, presumably because they are less capable of detecting conflict during reasoning. For this, the researchers created a scale using ten motivational quotations that are conventionally considered to be profound in that they are written in plain language and do not contain the vague buzzwords that are characteristic of the statements used above. Here are 10 of these motivational quaotations:

  • Your teacher can open the door, but you must enter by yourself.
  • The creative adult is the child who survived.
  • A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power but its persistence.
  • All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.
  • Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.
  • At the centre of your being you have the answer;  you know who you are and you know what you want.
  • A wet person does not fear the rain
  • Forgiveness means letting go of the hope for a better past.
  • Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
  • I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.

The final results of the studies indicated that those more receptive to bullshit are

  • less reflective
  • lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy)
  • more prone to ontological confusions (don’t ask me that means – I’m wondering if the researchers threw it in there as their own version of bullshit)
  • more prone to conspiratorial ideation (sounds like that could have come from the bullshit generator as well)
  • more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs
  • more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.
  • more likely to have read this far in a Borden’s Blather post…

 

60 thoughts on “How Receptive Are You to Bullshit?

  1. I think you may have just created a new button for social media. Instead of likes, we can see how many times our posts were marked as bullshit. 🤣 We don’t want to send you down that rabbit hole of statistical analysis.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I now know where all those bloggers who post ‘motivational and philisophical’ quotes get their ‘words of wisdom’ from – they all come from a big digital barrel of words floating in ‘the cloud’.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. As someone who has written a few quotes, I now wonder how much bullshit I have shoveled doing so. Without the “bullshit” button that Pete mentioned, I may never really know. I would like to think that I can smell bullshit from a mile away, but now I wonder. Great post, Jim!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I quickly become confused when reading those bullshit phrases. My brain responds to simply spoken language, and when people start throwing in a bunch of buzzwords, I tend to tune out. One of my coworkers talks and writes like this and I have a real problem discerning the point of our communications. This may be part of why I’ve settled in the nonprofit industry. Much less likely to encounter BS speak.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Many of the listed traits of people who are receptive to BS look like the same traits of many in Trump’s base. I guess our ability to recognize bullshit also depends on if we care we’re being bullshited or even welcome the bullshit.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bullshit is bad enough but when you smell horseshit you really know you’re in trouble. We have some prize examples here: indeed, only yesterday I was watching our Prime Minister, Bullshit Johnson, spouting his usual garbage on our national tv service, the British Bullshit Corporation. Johnson is also an expert in the art of testiculation – waving one’s arms around while talking bollocks – something I imagine a lot of the people writing those quotes are also good at.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The meaningless quote brigade? They charge a fortune for the gullible to be fed word salads. I think politicians go on courses to learn it, as part of their training in how not to give a straight answer to a question.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. some of those gurus make a good living by feeding the gullible those word salads. and politicians can just watch video footage of old press conferences to learn how to master such a skill…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I am so happy to hear this topic has actually been studied. So many times I find myself thinking “What is this person even talking about. It sounds like they’re just stringing together a bunch of random made up words and they’re not actually SAYING anything.” Now I know I’m not the only one secretly rolling my eyes and then wondering if it’s really me and maybe I am not hearing what they’re trying to say because maybe I’m just ignorant or confused.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We use the bullshit generator at work. The military is full of bullshit experts…sprinkle a little BS on a problem and make it sound smart and the problem is magically fixed!!! (Or magically now someone else’s problem 🤷‍♀️)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As a former speechwriter I am both offended and gladdened by these comments. Offended because quality BS takes time to create and gladdened that not everyone falls for my craft. Here’s one for you, “50% of the facts that I make up are real.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Gotcha!! It means nothing. It’s 100% percent BS. Facts can’t be made up. Your mind uses the words ‘facts’ and ‘real’ as anchors to objective reality.

        Liked by 1 person

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