An Empirical Study of Bullshitters

“Bullshitters. Who Are They and What Do We Know about Their Lives?” is the title of a new study conducted by John Jerrim (UCL), Phil Parker (Australian Catholic University), and Nikki Shure (UCL and IZA – Institute of Labor Economics).

The authors begin by noting the well-known philosophical work on the concept of bullshit by Harry Frankfurt in On Bullshit and G.A. Cohen’s effort to go “Deeper into Bullshit“, and pointing out the absence of empirical work on the subject.

Roy Lichtenstein, “Cow Triptych / Cow Going Abstract”

Their study is the first to “compare participants across countries in terms of their proclivity to bullshit.” It has certain limitations, they admit (it was of 15-year-olds in several Anglophone countries, nonlongitudinal, and only in regards to a certain type of subject matter). It may nonetheless be of interest to philosophers, who often describe certain philosophical skills as tools for “bullshit detection.”

What did they find?

Focusing upon 15-year-olds from across nine Anglophone countries, we have investigated the characteristics of young people who claim to have knowledge and expertise in three mathematics concepts which are fake. Having derived and established the comparability of our bullshit scale via measurement invariance procedures, we go on to find that young men are more likely to bullshit than young women, and that bullshitting is somewhat more prevalent amongst those from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Compared to other countries, young people in North America are found to be bigger bullshitters than young people in England, Australia and New Zealand, while those in Ireland and Scotland are the least likely to exaggerate their mathematical knowledge and abilities. Strong evidence also emerges that bullshitters also display overconfidence in their academic prowess and problem-solving skills, while also reporting higher levels of perseverance when faced with challenges and providing more socially desirable responses than more truthful groups. 

The authors note avenues for further research:

  • whether bullshitting is a stable trait that can be consistently observed for an individual over time, or if it is something that changes with age 
  • the factors associated with such change
  • the implications [for success or failure in various situations] of being a bullshitter
  • the social and labour market outcomes of bullshitters
  • the overlap between bullshitting with respect to different areas of life
  • [how to] maximise precision of the bullshit scale

You can read the whole study here.

(via Paul Fairie)

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5 years ago

This, of course, assumes that the authors are not themselves exemplars of the researched phenomenon. Since I often find people taking contradictory position on which particular people are or aren’t of the kind, I wonder what assurances they have (self-knowledge? non-bs compliance training certificate?). In general, I have to say, I find people who “investigate” people who “really” exemplify words used to put down, ridicule or otherwise demean people we don’t like rather, let’s say, less than compelling

Mx. X
Mx. X
5 years ago

Shocking new study reveals that rich high schoolers who bullshit adults are good at figuring out what people around them want to hear and telling that to them.

In other news, new research on folk metaphysics of mind shows a strong correlation between religiosity and commitment to mind-body dualism.