Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"On the Reception and Detection of Psuedo-Profound Bullshit"


You may have heard of this study, which was featured in the November 2015 issue of Judgment and Decision Making, the journal of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making. It's a fascinating study at any time, but at this juncture in our history - when facts are blithely ignored or, worse, invented by people aspiring to the most important office in the world, and when people who should know better unquestioningly lap up the most egregious of BS - it's really important. In case you don't want to read the whole study (but you should), here's 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 (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."

Wow.

The paper draws an interesting distinction between lying ("which entails a deliberate manipulation and subversion of truth"), and bullshit ("something that is designed to impress but that was constructed absent direct concern for the truth*"). I would contend that both outright lying and bullshit are major components of political discourse today, the problem being that so few people are either able or willing to distinguish them from discourse worth hearing and using as a basis for sound decision-making.

This paper introduces the concept of the Bullshit Receptivity (BSR) Scale as a measure of the propensity for individuals unquestioningly to accept bullshit, and documents four studies which attempt to analyze the various factors which result in higher or lower BSR scores among persons exposed to bullshit. These factors include religious beliefs, political biases, belief in the supernatural, lack of education in logical thinking and analysis, and lack of education in general.

It's pretty clear that the BSR score of the average American voter, particularly those who support odious buffoons like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, is off the scale.

Can you, Dear Readers, adequately detect and respond to bullshit, no matter which party shovels it out? As the 2016 presidential sweepstakes intensifies, I hope so.


Have a good day. Cultivate a low BSR score. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* Emphasis mine. It's pretty clear that there is a lack of "direct concern" for the truth in most political campaigns. While all politicians are guilty at some time or another of spinning data to present a more favorable picture of "the truth," it seems that in the current environment, there is a complete lack of concern ... if not outright disdain ... for proven facts and demonstrated science. Methinks we're screwed.

10 comments:

eViL pOp TaRt said...

For some, truth is a slight inconvenience. Some imitate Foghorn Leghorn to sound impressive. Others fall back on academic jargon.

Duckbutt said...

Convoluted speech may be a stimulus for turning off. If people feel hopelessly confused, they may decide it's too profound to understand,

John Hill said...

The old saying "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit," comes to mind.

KathyA said...

Where can I vote for ass-clown??

Mike said...

Speaking of BS, 50 more votes for Trump. 49 for Cruz.

Big Sky Heidi said...

"Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers," What a field of study.

allenwoodhaven said...

A great post! Thank you for passing on the study. There's BS everywhere, it seems. In governance, it's particularly dangerous. People get tired of sorting it out and rely on "Truthiness" to try to understand the world.

Sinner Bob said...

B.S. is an American art form.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

It's amazing that someone did a paper on bullshit.

Bilbo said...

Kathy - vote as a comment on the blog, send a Facebook PM or post on my wall, send me an e-mail, or give me a call. Or all of the above. Voting closes tonight!