In everyday life, people do the utmost to impress each other. Very often, they do not have true accomplishments to be proud of. That is when it comes to gammons and the stories containing no truth used as a tool to impress others. This is what is known as bullshit, a phenomenon that has become a subject to many psychological and philosophical studies. Even though it has become widespread with the outburst in the development of information and communications technologies, most people cannot tell the difference between bullshit and truth. Detection of bullshit and its perception is what Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang studied in their article, On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-profound Bullshit.
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In the article, the authors focus on the reception of bullshit because they believe that this topic has never been empirically investigated. The research offers an empirical study of pseudo-profound bullshit that, to their mind, “consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous” (Pennycook et al., 2015, p. 549). Moreover, the article provides the mechanisms and the variables of the pseudo-profound bullshit as well as demonstrates the results of the studies aimed at detecting people’s reception of bullshit and whether they detect it in their everyday life. Speaking of the authors, they work in Canada – Pennycook, Cheyne, Koehler, and Fugelsang, all are employed by the University of Waterloo Department of Psychology, while Barr works for the School of Humanities and Creativity of Sheridan College. The authors carried out their study under the funding of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
The authors’ main point is that with the rise of the information and communications technologies, people are more willing to encounter bullshit in their everyday life. What is more, the authors state that there are two mechanisms of bullshit, “a response bias toward accepting something as true [and] a potential inability to detect bullshit” (Pennycook et al., 2015, p. 550). The purpose of the article is to provide evidence that bullshit has an integral part in nowadays; that is why everyone interested in psychology and social interaction will find it interesting. Furthermore, reading it may be beneficial to those who believe everything they hear.
The authors provide strong arguments to support the main idea of the article. First of all, they provide a theoretical background of bullshit by citing works of philosophers and psychologists such as Frankfurt, Buekens, Boudry, Black, Sperber, De Neys, and others. More than that, they develop two mechanisms of bullshit mentioned above and back it by profound theoretical proof. The authors also report on the results of the studies they carried out to support their arguments. The first experiment was conducted in the form of a survey presenting statements from relevant websites, and the respondents were asked to indicate the level profundity of each of those statements (Pennycook et al., 2015, p. 551).
With every next study, the authors added more external factors to evaluate the given statements, such as the level of fluid intelligence, cognitive abilities, skepticism, and citizenship of the participants. The authors’ underlying assumption in the study was that the differences in reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit lie in the external factors that were mentioned above.
To my mind, the article is written in a well-constructed way with the logical arguments supporting the leading point. Moreover, it is not overburdened with scientific terminology that makes it easy to read and understand, while the organization of the ideas appearing in the text helps to track the course of the research. At the same time, the authors provide a clear description of all the necessary concepts so that the text of the article is appropriate for the intended audience, whether it be scholars or people with no specialized knowledge in the field of psychology. Together with that, it is logical, does not present opposing points of view, and that is why it helps in the subject insight.
Nevertheless, the authors provide strong evidence to support their central idea and carry out surveys at different levels, adding more external factors at every level, to my mind, the issue is still not fully studied. That said, further research on the subject can be conducted in the future. I believe that taking into consideration such objective factors as gender and age might add to the understanding of reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. What is more, carrying such surveys out with participants from different countries, not only the United States, might also be valuable.
So, the article adds to the understanding of the subjects. Providing strong arguments and writing their ideas out in a well-organized manner, the authors make the study clear and interesting to read. Even though the research is rich in evidence proving the key thought, there are still certain gaps left in the survey that can, however, be filled in while conducting further research.
Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J. A., Barr, N., Koehler, D. J., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2015). On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making, 10(6), 549-563. Web.