Social media is rife with blanket statements that seem to convey a deep meaning when, in fact, they’re just fluff masquerading as something of substance. “Without fire, one cannot reflect,” or “Awareness requires exploration,“ are just a few so-called pseudo-profound bullshit statements (PPBS) which I found online. There’s even a New-Age Bullshit generator which you can use to create your own pseudo-profound story. Just press “reionize electrons”.
“We are in the midst of a conscious ennobling of growth that will enable us to access the world itself. Reality has always been buzzing with storytellers whose third eyes are immersed in interconnectedness. Our conversations with other dreamers have led to an ennobling of supra-dynamic consciousness,” one such auto-generated paragraph reads.
Timothy Bainbridge and colleagues at the University of Melbourne became interested in PPBS and how it relates to other behaviors and personality traits. Their curiosity was sparked by a study which found a negative correlation between apophenia (false detection of patterns or causal connections) and intelligence.
The researchers performed two studies involving 297 college students. The participants were asked to read and rate a number of truly profound, mundane, and pseudo-profound statements.
According to the results, participants who were more prone to identify patterns where there were none in reality were also more likely to rate PPBS as more profound. Those that scored higher on measures of intelligence tended to give PPBS lower scores.
Importantly, the findings, published in the European Journal of Personality, show that participants who scored high on intelligence measures did not rate all the statements as less profound. Rather, intelligence was correlated with the ability to distinguish pseudo-profound bullshit from truly profound statements.
“I think the take-home from this paper is that people who find PPBS profound do so more because of an inability to discriminate the profound from the pseudo-profound rather than because of a general propensity to find all statements profound,” Bainbridge explained to PsyPost.
“Given the connection between PPBS and paranormal beliefs, for example, it may follow that these types of beliefs are accepted, not because people will believe anything, but because people sometimes find it difficult to distinguish such beliefs from those that are more reasonable or likely. To be sure, some of the effect is likely a greater bias toward believing these types of theories, but an inability to discriminate seems to play the larger role.”
In the future, the researchers plan to investigate the causes and mechanisms behind the effects that PPBS can have on a sub-group of the population.
This year, Swedish researchers found that participants who were the most receptive to pseudo-profound bullshit – i.e. they rated the bullshit statements as meaningful – were also overall less likely to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as donating to charity. Previously, researchers also linked PPBS ratings to fake news, so there may be important practical implications to PPBS, whether you buy into them or not.