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. Pseudo-profound bullshit consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.

In this study, researchers 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.

The authors concluded that 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.

Harry G Frankfurt published his delightful booklet ‘ON BULLSHIT‘ in 2005. Since then, the term ‘bullshit’ has become accepted terminology in philosophy and science. But what exactly is bullshit? Frankfurt explains that is something between a lie and a bluff, perhaps more like the latter than the former.

In another recent article, Fugelsang explains that the growing prevalence of misleading information (i.e., bullshit) in society carries with it an increased need to understand the processes underlying many people’s susceptibility to falling for it. He also reports two studies (N = 412) examining the associations between one’s ability to detect pseudo-profound bullshit, confidence in one’s bullshit detection abilities, and the metacognitive experience of evaluating potentially misleading information.

The results suggest that people with the lowest (highest) bullshit detection performance overestimate (underestimate) their detection abilities and overplace (underplace) those abilities when compared to others. Additionally, people reported using both intuitive and reflective thinking processes when evaluating misleading information. Taken together, these results show that both highly bullshit-receptive and highly bullshit-resistant people are largely unaware of the extent to which they can detect bullshit and that traditional miserly processing explanations of receptivity to misleading information may be insufficient to fully account for these effects.

I am sure that some of the discussions on this blog are excellent examples for people with low bullshit detection performance overestimating their detection abilities and overplacing those abilities.

6 Responses to Detecting bullshit

  • This has made me think of YouTuber “irlrosie” who pranks online scammers. Listen to her wonderful fluent BS nonsense from 1:20 onwards at

  • In this study, researchers 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”).

    There is in fact a Web site generating similar statements that are indiscernible from those uttered by a certain proponent of Quantum BS:

    Even more problematic than those who fool gullible people with health-related pseudo-profound BS are people such as one Donald T., who has turned BS into the very foundation of his narcissistic personality cult: he simply does not care if anything he says or does is truthful or not, or even if it damages other people, just as long as it makes him look good. And there still appear to be at least some 70 million people who happily swallow his endless lies and BS …

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