Dazzled and Confused: Bullshitting as a Strategic Behaviour
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While much work has focused on receptivity to bullshit as a form of irrational belief which may predict the endorsement of other irrational beliefs, much less has been done examining how bullshit may be used strategically. For a highly social species such as humans, much can be gained by deploying cognitive and linguistic tricks to impress, confuse, and entice others toward favourable actions for the bullshitter. In the current research, I examine the persuasive power of bullshit in 9 studies. First, I demonstrate how the use of bullshit affects people’s judgments of things unrelated to the content of the bullshit itself, including enhancing the perceived profoundness of abstract art through the inclusion of bullshit titles (Chapter 2) or increasing reported willingness-to-pay for questionable products which are described using bullshit (Chapter 3). Further, I demonstrate that effective bullshitting may confer benefits in terms of how others perceive the bullshitter, including that good bullshitters are judged to be more intelligent. I also demonstrate that this judgement may not be completely unfounded insofar as cognitive ability predicts the ability to bullshit well (Chapter 4). I then propose a potential mechanism for why bullshit carries persuasive power, that is, through a unique combination of aesthetic appeal and confusing construction which leaves the target of bullshit baffled, but open to be impressed by the odd beauty of flowery nonsense. I ultimately find that the strongest predictor of receptivity to bullshit is how beautiful it is judged to be (Chapter 5). I discuss these results as they contribute to an understanding of bullshitting as a strategic behaviour which affords good bullshitters the opportunity to gain advantages through confusion, superficial impressiveness, and a flexible commitment to truth telling.
Cite this version of the work
Martin Harry Turpin (2023). Dazzled and Confused: Bullshitting as a Strategic Behaviour. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/20135