Situational Factors Influencing Receptivity to Bullshit

Authors

  • Mitch Brown
  • Lucas A. Keefer
  • Shelby J. McGrew

Abstract

Individuals are motivated to maintain a sense of meaning, and enact cognitive processes to do so (e.g., perceiving structure in the environment). This motivation to find meaning may ultimately impact humans’ interpretation of "bullshit", statements intended to convey profundity without any meaning. Conversely, subtle cues threatening the meaningfulness of bullshit may elicit greater skepticism. Three studies tested situational factors predicted to heighten or diminish susceptibility to bullshit by changing motivations to seek meaning. We employed diverse methods including symbolic meaning threat (Study 1), social exclusion (Cyberball; Study 2), and manipulating cognitive fluency (Study 3). Taken together, the results indicate basic processes shaping the detection of meaning have implications for the appraisal of ambiguously insightful information.