So i was scrolling through the BPS Readers Digest and I happen to come across this glaring post “The Results Are In From the First Study of What Encourages and Deters People From Bullshitting“. Isn’t is amazing how seeing swearing just draws in your attention? Anyway, i was intrigued so decided to give this article a read and, i have to say, it’s very much worth it.
Have you ever had that one friend or colleague that tells you a story and you think to yourself “Yeah, you’re spouting bullshit, mate”. Or maybe they weigh in on a topic you know they have no idea about but they’re convinced they have this ultimate insight you’re unaware of. As it turns out, this behaviour, aptly named “bullshitting”, has been researched for the first time and the results are quite interesting. According to Petrocelli, bullshitting is a very specific behaviour which is defined as “communicating with little concern for evidence or truth”. With this in mind, Petrocelli investigated just what made people want to bullshit. Petrocelli did this in the form of two experiments;
In the first experiment, participants were asked their thoughts about a made up scenario of a politician dropping out of a race for becoming a council member, despite being in the lead. Participants were separated into 6 groups of ‘participant knowledge‘ vs ‘participant un- knowledge‘, ‘audience knowledgeable‘ vs. ‘audience un-knowledgeable‘ and ‘obligated to give an opinion‘ vs. ‘not obligated‘. The ‘Participant knowledge‘ group were shown a personality questionnaire the man had supposedly filled out, whereas the participant un-knowledgeable group had no such information about the man. The audience knowledgeable group were informed an audience would asses their thoughts for accuracy and that they knew the man in the scenario very well whereas the audience un-knowledgeable group were informed an audience would assess their response but did not know the man at all. Finally, the obligated group were given no additional instructions whereas the ‘not obligated group were told they did not have to give an opinion if they didn’t want to. Results of this found people were more likely to bullshit when they were obligated to give an opinion and when they felt they were more likely to get away with bullshitting (un-knowledgeable audience).
In experiment 2, Petrocelli assessed how ‘accountability’ might influence the likelihood to bullshit. In this experiment, participants were assessed on their attitudes (i.e. harmful vs. beneficial, good vs. bad, negative vs. positive etc.) towards some controversial topics, such as nuclear weapons and capital punishment. After this, participants were then asked to give their thoughts about the topics, providing up to five thoughts. participants assigned to a ‘no accountability’ group were given no further instructions other than to answer honestly. The rest of the participants, however, were told of a second phase in which they were to explain and justify their thoughts and opinions to a sociology professor (an expert in social issues) and this would be audio taped. At this point, the remaining participants were part of one of three groups; accountability with a discussant attitude unknown (unaware of the professor’s attitude towards the topic), accountability with like-minded discussant (participants were told the professor’s attitudes were similar to their own) and accountability with unlike-minded discussant (participants were told the professor’s attitudes were dissimilar to their own). Much like in the first experiment, people were more likely to bullshit when the bullshit was easier to get away with (i.e. when not held accountable or when discussing the topic with a like-minded individual).
There you have it. Next time that one bloke at work starts pushing his bullshit, you can interrupt him and inform him you happen to be an expert on that topic. You never know, he might actually quit his bullshit. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Here is the link to the BPS Readers Digest post if you want to find the full article: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/05/22/the-results-are-in-from-the-first-study-of-what-encourages-and-deters-people-from-bullshitting/
Also, why not leave a comment about your favourite “bullshit” story or experience you’ve had? Maybe you have been the bullshitter? I’d love to hear them!