Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bullshit reception

No bullshit---this article seems well worth reading:
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 5
On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit
Gordon Pennycook∗James Allan Cheyne†Nathaniel Barr‡Derek J. Koehler Jonathan A. Fugelsang
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 consist s 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 bull-shit 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.
In my day job, grading undergraduate philosophy papers, I am well aware of the inability of many students to distinguish bullshit from more meanful expression,either in their own writing, or sometimes in the work of others. I suspect context has something to do with this---knowing they are in the presence of what is supposed to be profound and borderline incomprehensible (the novice [and not so novice] student's view of philosophy) they absorb the word salad utterances of their classmates with rapt attention, in the apparent belief that if they don't understand, it is their fault, and certainly not anything they want to admit. Call this the bullshit response---while the word salad is sometimes  the sincere, non-bullshit attempt of the speaker to express some inchoate idea, the listeners insincerely respond with expressions of understanding, in order to convey the impression, to themsevles and others, that they are at least as deep as the speaker.

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