Space & Innovation

Why Do People Think BS is Profound?

Recently, researchers have been studying the science of 'bullshit.' Can you actually tell when someone is full of it?

Now here's some news we can use.

Scientists have developed a useful research tool for determining how susceptible people are to ... well, to believing bullshit.

Created by a team of Canadian sociology researchers, the Bullshit Receptivity Scale -- that's the official designation, mind you -- was recently applied to the U.S. presidential election.

The results are in and -- as Lissette Padilla and Julian Huguet explain in this DNews report -- it seems U.S. voters of a particular political persuasion are definitely more likely to believe bullshit. If statistical estimates hold, that means about half of you are about to be unhappy.

According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, Republican voters were far more likely to fall for bullshit than voters supporting the Democratic party.

Yes, this sounds like an Onion story, but remember that in this context, "bullshit" is a genuine scientific term.

Let's back up a bit: The Bullshit Receptivity Scale, or BRS, is based on previous studies that suggest that certain people tend to assign profound meaning to vague statements -- a characteristic termed "bullshit receptivity."

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For instance, consider the statement, "Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty." This sample statement, used in the studies, actually goes in circles -- it has no meaning. But research suggests that certain people will nevertheless read meaning into the statement.

In fact, the numbers show readers are particularly susceptible to this kind of "pseudo-profound bullshit" -- again, these are the official terms.

Back to politics. The PLOS One study correlated numbers on the Bullshit Receptivity Scale with subjects' self-identified political views. According to the research abstract:

"Results revealed that favorable views of all three Republican candidates were positively related to judging bullshit statements as profound."

Of course, this is just one study, and a small one at that. But it does shed light on the potential utility of the BRS system as a research tool, and the function of bullshit in our increasingly delightful electoral process.

-- Glenn McDonald Read More:

Journal of Judgment and Decision Making: On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit

PlosOne: Misperceiving Bullshit as Profound Is Associated with Favorable Views of Cruz, Rubio, Trump and Conservatism

Princeton University: On Bullshit