People who like pseudo-profound intellectual bullshit are likely to be less intelligent, and more likely to believe in things like baseless conspiracy theories, a study has found.
Gordon Pennycook, a PhD candidate, and his team of researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, tested hundreds of participants and found a link between openness to new-age quotes and intelligence.
Defining ‘bullshit’ was a tricky task, but the team tried their best in the paper. One example, they give is, “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.” Which means fuck and all.
The paper defines bullshit as ‘a collection of buzzwords put together randomly in a sentence that retains syntactic structure’. It adds ‘bullshit, in contrast to mere nonsense, is something that implies but does not contain adequate meaning or truth’.
Pennycook used a website that would randomly generate these pseudo-profound sentences at the click of a button.
Test subjects were given the task of rating how profound they found these sentences on a scale of one to five. The average profoundness rating of was 2.6, indicting the quotes were generally seen as between ‘somewhat profound’ and ‘fairly profound’.
Subjects were then given real-life examples of bullshit, they had to rate the tweets of new age spiritualist, Deepak Chopra, as well as the computer-generated statements from the first test. The results in this test were very similar, indicating those tested were unable to spot the bullshit from real new-age wisdom.
Experience is made out of awareness pic.twitter.com/HJ5D2ew5Iq
— Deepak Chopra (@DeepakChopra) December 1, 2015
The researchers also looked at other personality traits, examining how the participants think about themselves and the world around them.
The paper’s pretty damning for those who were receptive to the bullshit, saying they were “less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy) and are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation”.