Bullshit is a communication that is meant to seem meaningful and impressive but, at the same time, is unclarifiably unclarifiable. Used in science, politics, and many other domains.. Let’s have a look at why do we fall for it?
One man’s bullshit is another man’s catechism.” —“Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection,” Neil Post
Bullshit in simple words is communications that result from little to no concern for truth, evidence and/or established semantic, logical, systemic, or empirical knowledge. So bullshitting isn’t just nonsense. It’s constructed in order to appear meaningful, though on closer examination, it isn’t. And bullshit isn’t the same as lying. A liar knows the truth but makes statements deliberately intended to sell people on falsehoods.
Bullshitters, in contrast, aren’t concerned about what’s true or not, so much as they’re trying to appear as if they know what they’re talking about. In that sense, bullshitting can be thought of as a verbal demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger effect—when people speak from a position of disproportionate confidence about their knowledge relative to what little they actually know, bullshit is often the result.
Existing research has focused primarily on pseudoprofound bullshit statements that are superficially related to the fundamental nature of the universe or existence. However, bullshit can also be employed in mundane contexts. For example, bullshit arguments can appear in modern workplaces, political discussions, and even in (seemingly) evidence-based scientific reports, It is important to consider how bullshit receptivity functions across domains: Are some people generally accepting of bullshit statements, regardless of content? Or are the correlates of bullshit sensitivity different across domains? For example, individuals with spiritual proclivities may be more likely to accept pseudo-profound (but not political) bullshit.
Political Bullshit isn’t designed to sound profound so much as it’s deliberately crafted as accessible if vague rhetoric to be used in speeches or off-the-cuff press conference remarks in the service of evading a more nuanced discussion of complex topics. Political bullshit is therefore often a smokescreen, either to cover for ignorance or to avoid conceding that one might be wrong.
Political bullshit is more relevant in today’s digital landscape, with politicians often pressured for comments on a wide range of subjects for which they often lack true expertise.
As per Scientific Bullshit, it’s a form of communication that relies on obtuse scientific jargon to convey a false sense of importance or significance. Scientific bullshit is syntactically coherent but impossible to verify as either true or false. It is, however, constructed using scientific terminology with the aim to sound true, but not profound.
In this context, the “post-truth” world of 2020 and the rise of the COVID-19 epidemic have witnessed epic bullshit proportions where facts and expertise have been declared dead, opinions were routinely confused with news, and objective evidence is endlessly refuted.
What type of person is receptive to bullshit and pseudo-profound bullshit? Pennycook found that individuals receptive to bullshit are also more likely to rely on intuitive vs. reflective cognitive processes; have weaker cognitive abilities (i.e., lower scores in verbal intelligence, fluid intelligence, and numeracy), and are more likely to believe in religion and the supernatural. Generally, those who believe in pseudo-profound bullshit are either relatively unwilling or unable to engage in rational thought.
Furthermore, pseudoprofound bullshit receptivity may have important behavioral consequences, as those who believe in pseudo-profound bullshit are more susceptible to belief in conspiracy theories, the tendency to perceive connections between unrelated things, and the tendency to perceive false or fake news as accurate as well as a willingness to share it on social media. Pseudo-profound bullshit can also be strategically used to increase the attractiveness of consumer goods, such as works of modern art. Paintings with pseudo-profound titles are seen as higher quality than paintings with mundane titles (Turpin et al., 2019).
Bullshit receptivity is inversely correlated with intelligence and analytical thinking. Studies exploring associations between bullshit receptivity and political ideology have found positive correlations with certain aspects of political conservatism including support of conservative social policies. However, bullshit receptivity is by no means a trait exclusive to conservatives—evidence from Sweden indicates a correlation with Green Party affiliation. Behaviorally, higher bullshit receptivity has been associated with lower engagement in “prosocial” acts like donating to or volunteering for charity.
Also, as there is a tendency for those who think more intuitively than analytically. Stated another way, the opposite of bullshit receptivity—bullshit detection—seems to require active, deliberate reflection and analysis, rather than accepting things based on gut feeling. This requires considerable cognitive effort on our part, whereas bullshit receptivity may reflect a kind of cognitive laziness or, less pejoratively, a trap into which it’s all too easy for us to fall.
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