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 bullshit, from 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
- 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…