Your bullshit detector might not be nearly as good as you think

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What do you think that quote means, exactly? Does it read as deep or thought-provoking? According to a new study published in this month's Judgement and Decision Making, despite the quote being complete and utter nonsense, chances are good that you thought it was pretty profound.

The study's findings were built around an analysis of peoples' ability to receive and detect "pseudo-profound bullshit." Here, bullshit is defined as "seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous."


A group of 280 people hired via Amazon's Mechanical Turk were asked to rank the profundity of different types of statements on a scale from one to five over series of different questionnaires.

First, participants were given a number of objectively bullshit statements composed of popular buzzwords that were grammatically sound but didn't actually mean anything, like "wholeness quiets infinite phenomena." Many of the quotes used in the study were actually generated by Wisdom of Chopra, a bot that strings together vague sentences of words pulled from Deepak Chopra's Twitter account.

Later tests asks participants to compare the profundity of aphorisms you might find on an inspirational poster ("a river cuts through a rock, not because of its power but its persistence") to common sense statements ("most people enjoy some sort of music.")


By and large, the researchers discovered, a large number of people will find profundity in just about anything if it's padded with enough vague bullshit. One-fourth of the first test's participants ranked meaningless Wisdom of Chopra statements with a three or higher (on a scale of five.)

"These results indicate that our participants largely failed to detect that the statements are bullshit," the study explains. "None of this is intended to imply that every statement in Chopra’s tweet history is bullshit."


The study's findings, its researchers point out, shouldn't necessarily suggest that people are gullible or easily taken in, but rather can be thought of as openminded. Bullshit, they conclude, is a part of the human condition and increasingly becoming more and more a part of the information that we consume.


"Bullshit is not only common; it is popular," the study concludes. "Using vagueness or ambiguity to mask a lack of meaningfulness is surely common in political rhetoric, marketing, and even academia."

Indeed, with the rise of communication technology, people are likely encountering more bullshit in their everyday lives than ever before.

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