Scientists Figure Out What Type of Person Believes BS

This may be the first study of 'pseudo-profound bullshit'
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2015 8:51 AM CST
Deepak Chopra appears during the 2015 Essence Music Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 4, 2015, in New Orleans.   (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)
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(Newser) – This has to rank among the best opening statements ever in a study 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." And so researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario set out to study "pseudo-profound bullshit," and who believes it. Reporting in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, the researchers asked subjects to rate quotes that are philosophical, mundane, or simply BS—the latter consisting, in their words, of "seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous"—on a profundity scale. The team also tested participants' cognitive and reasoning ability. The researchers found that those who are "more receptive" to BS have lower "verbal and fluid intelligence" and are more likely to believe in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and alternative medicine.

For actual examples of readily propagated BS, Forbes reports PhD candidate Gordon Pennycook and his team turned to the Twitter feed of Deepak Chopra, highlighting tweets such as "Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation." The Telegraph reports the researchers also used this website, which composes made-up pseudo-profound statements like this one: "Growth is the richness of life, and of us." The researchers found that participants assigned the website-generated BS and Chopra's tweets similar profoundness ratings. As for who was good at sniffing out BS, Forbes reports it was those who tend to "have an analytic cognitive style and be skeptical about paranormal phenomena." Chopra's response to it all? He tweeted, "I thank the authors for the study. Their is getting me more speaking engagements & new book offers." (Read about another unusual study: Scientists have decided there are 4 kinds of drunks.)

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