Hit & Run

Conservatives More Susceptible to Bullshit Than Liberals

Supporters of Trump, Cruz, and Rubio more likely to see profoundness in bullshit than supporters of Clinton, Sanders, and O'Malley



The new study on voter receptivity to bunkum uses bullshit statements generated by earlier work by a group of Canadian psychologists. The researchers conducted a number of experiments in which they evaluated subjects for their reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Very amusingly, the researchers generated their pseudo-profound bullshit from actual tweets from mystic Deepak Chopra and from websites that mimic Chopra's opaque gnomic style.

Some examples of generated pseudo-profound bullshit included: "Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty"; "Imagination is inside exponential space time events"; and, "We are in the midst of a self-aware blossoming of being that will align us with the nexus itself." Chopra actually tweeted the following: "Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation"; "We are not the emergent property of a mechanical universe but the seasonal activity of a living universe"; and, "As beings of light we are local and non-local, time bound and timeless actuality and possibility."

To get a baseline, the researchers compared in some studies subjects' ratings of profundity of such mundane observations as, "Newborn babies require constant attention," and, "Lazy people usually don't succeed in life." They also had some subjects rate the profundity of motivational statements such as, "A river cuts through rock, not because of its power but its persistence," and, "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

In this earlier study, the Canadian researchers wanted to find out what sorts of people (if any) were particularly susceptible to thinking that bullshit somehow contained profound meaning. In some studies they test subjects for their IQs and analytic abilities. They report that there are just some people who broadly accept all kinds of epistemically suspect beliefs such as existence of ghosts, paranormal phenomena, conspiratorial ideation, and the efficacy of alternative medical treatments like homeopathy. They describe such people as being "uncritically open-minded."

"Although epistemically suspect claims may or may not themselves qualify as bullshit, the lack of skepticism that underlies the acceptance of epistemically suspect claims should also promote positive bullshit receptivity," generously observe the researchers. Interestingly, they find that bullshit sensitivity (the ability to detect it) is associated with lower paranormal belief, but not conspiratorial ideation or acceptance of alternative medicine. Religious believers also tended to rate bullshit statements as being more profound. The researchers did find that "increased bullshit sensitivity was associated with better performance on measures of analytic thinking."

In the new study in the journal PLoS One, two German researchers test to find out if bullshit detection (or lack thereof) is associated with specific political views in the United States. They first ask subjects where they fit on the usual conservative to liberal political spectrum and then for whom they planned to vote. Once politically pigeonholed, the subjects are asked evaluate the list of bullshit and mundane statements from the earlier study for their profundity. They report:

Results revealed that favorable views of all three Republican candidates were positively related to judging bullshit statements as profound. The smallest correlation was found for Donald Trump. Although we observe a positive association between bullshit and support for the three Democrat candidates, this relationship is both substantively small and statistically insignificant. The general measure of political liberalism/conservatism was also related to judging bullshit statements as profound in that individuals who were more politically conservative had a higher tendency to see profoundness in bullshit statements. Of note, these results were not due to a general tendency among conservatives to see profoundness in everything: Favorable views of Republican candidates and conservatism were not significantly related to profoundness ratings of mundane statements. In contrast, this was the case for Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley. Overall, small-to-medium sized correlations were found, indicating that far from all conservatives see profoundness in bullshit statements.

As reported above, the researchers found that liberals were more likely to rate "mundane" statements as being profound, yet the example they give of a mundane statement – "A wet person does not fear the rain" - actually comes from the list of motivational statements in the earlier Canadian study on bullshit.  It is worth noting that in the earlier study, motivational statements were consistently rated as being more profound than bullshit statements.

I am pretty confident that I would not have found a scintilla of profundity in a single one of the pseudo-Chopra or real-Chopra bullshit statements. Meanwhile back to the low dishonest campaign for the presidency.