The Extra BS You Unfold, the Extra BS You Fall For, New Examine Reveals
“One of the most outstanding features of our culture is that there is so much shit,” writes the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt in his inevitable short treatise on this defining characteristic of modern life.
People have lied since the beginning of time, of course. But the onslaught of spin, exaggeration, truthfulness, and wildly inaccurate Instagram filters seem unique for our time. So much so that you may have thrown your hands up and decided to give yourself a little BS and give yourself a treat. After all, what do you have to lose if you follow the general zeitgeist and occasionally gild the lily a little?
According to a new study published in Social Psychology that differs from the old adage, “You can’t fuck a bullshitter.” In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. In fact, unless you feel the need to pay special attention to the limits of truth and accuracy yourself, you are more likely to fall for other people’s bullshit.
The BS blindspot
The design of the research, done by a team from the University of Waterloo and highlighted on the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog, is actually pretty fun. For the first of a series of experiments, the researchers brought 219 volunteers into the lab and had them fill out the bullshitting frequency scale (yes, this is a real measure used by psychologists). As the name suggests, it shows how likely it is to blow hot air on topics you know little about.
They then measured how receptive the subjects were to others’ BS by trying to tell the difference between pseudo-deep quotations and real expressions of wisdom. (“If” We’re in the midst of a high-frequency bloom of networking giving us access to the quantum soup itself “sounds extremely profound to you, you would probably get a high score on that scale,” quips BPS.) You were also asked to sort real sentences full of scientific jargon from grammatically correct but meaningless strings of scientific terms and judge whether certain articles were fake news.
The connection between spitting out BS and falling on it was clear. If you’re the type to bloat with a liberal use of BS, then I have bad news for you: you’re far more likely to fall for other people’s bullshit, too. Researchers called this the “BS blind spot”.
One important caveat
It’s worth noting that the researchers distinguished between two types of bullshitting – persuasive and evasive. Evasive BS is when you speak the truth to avoid conflict, punishment, or harm to others. Persuasive BS is what most of us think of when we think of BS – trying to convince or impress others while showing a thorough lack of interest in the truth.
It’s just compelling BS that appears to be closely related to a greater susceptibility to spin and exaggeration of others. “Highly convincing bullshitters seem to interpret / confuse superficial depth as a signal for actual depth,” the researchers explain. Sneaky evasive bullshitters didn’t have that much to contend with.
Why could that be so? Possible because those who tend to have tons of convincing BS just aren’t that smart. The researchers found that those who used the most BS were cocky with their intellectual abilities and performed comparatively poorly on tests of cognitive abilities.
It is not inferred from this study whether consistent disregard for the truth weakens your critical thinking skills or whether weak critical thinking skills make you more susceptible to BS. But until science finds out, one thing is clear: if you are often more concerned with your own gain than the truth, this is not a good sign.
Keeping a clear line between reality and fiction is hard work that requires discipline and practice. Give up the distinction often enough and you will likely lose the ability to separate truth from fiction when it comes down to it.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.