Are you ready for the most shocking news of the year? You sure? Okay, take a seat, because this is going to blow your socks off. A recent study has concluded that there’s a clear and tangible link between accepting profound-sounding ‘bullshit’ and lower intelligence. By the way, I just want to clarify that ‘bullshit’ is the researchers’ choice of word and not mine. I’d have gone for something a lot stronger after trawling through the specifications as to what ‘bullshit’ actually entails.
To be precise, this study comes from the marvellous mind of Gordon Pennycock, who is a PhD candidate from the University of Waterloo in Canada. He reckons that anyone who appreciates stupid pseud0-intellectual quotations, like your semi-racist pal on Facebook does, have a propensity to be less intelligent than those who don’t. His research has just been published in the journal of Judgment and Decision-Making and is taking the dumbing down of philosophy, rightly, to task.
The methods used by Pennycock et al to gather the data was pretty interesting. Firstly, to clarify further, they considered any scientific-sounding fakery and unverified claims to be ‘bullshit’. They even used tweets by Deepak Chopra to highlight the how motivational quotations are also significantly bullshity. So, in three different rounds the team got 300 or so participants to rate different statements (some motivational quotes, some computer-generated) on a scale of 1-5, whereby 5 was ‘this statement is extremely profound’.
— Deepak Chopra (@DeepakChopra) December 2, 2015
Aside from that helping them note that people couldn’t distinguish between statements created by people and computers, they also saw a clear link between ‘intelligence’ and their ranking of profound sentences. This is how the awesome dudes at IFL Science put it:
When the individual results were compared with the person’s measured numeracy skills, verbal intelligence, religious beliefs, and ability to distinguish between a metaphorical and a literal statement, a fairly clear pattern was revealed. Those who were more likely to believe outlandish conspiracy theories, those that think alternative medicine is effective, those with a strong belief in the paranormal, and those that confuse metaphors for factual pieces of information, were found to not be the most analytical or intelligent of people.
The study then wraps up with a wonderfully succinct, and almost self-parodying, line: “One benefit of gaining a better understanding of how we reject other’s bullshit is that it may teach us to be more [aware] of our own bullshit.”
Profound bullshit all round, then, eh?