There's a folk truism that goes, "Don't try to bullshit a bullshitter."
The implication is that people who exaggerate and/or lie routinely, either to get away with things or to create an overblown image of themselves, know the technique so well that they can always spot it in others. This makes bullshitting a doubly attractive game; not only does it make you slick, impressing the gullible and allowing you to avoid responsibility, it makes you savvy and less likely to be suckered yourself.
Well, a study published this week in The British Journal of Social Psychology, conducted by Shane Littrell, Evan Risko, and Jonathan Fugelsang, has shown that like many folk truisms, this isn't true at all.
In fact, the research supports the opposite conclusion. At least one variety of regular bullshitting leads to more likelihood of falling for bullshit from others.
The researchers identified two main kinds of bullshitting, persuasive and evasive. Persuasive bullshitters exaggerate or embellish their own accomplishments to impress others or fit in with their social group; evasive ones dance around the truth to avoid damaging their own reputations or the reputations of their friends.
Because of the positive shine bullshitting has with many, the researchers figured most people who engage either type wouldn't be shy about admitting it, so they used self-reporting to assess the bullshit levels and styles of the eight hundred participants. They then gave each a more formal measure of cognitive ability, metacognitive insight, intellectual overconfidence, and reflective thinking, then a series of pseudo-profound and pseudoscientific statements mixed in with real profound and truthful statements, to see if they could tell them apart.
The surprising result was that the people who were self-reported persuasive bullshitters were significantly worse at detecting pseudo-profundity than the habitually honest; the evasive bullshitters were better than average."We found that the more frequently someone engages in persuasive bullshitting, the more likely they are to be duped by various types of misleading information regardless of their cognitive ability, engagement in reflective thinking, or metacognitive skills," said study lead author Shane Littrell, of the University of Waterloo. "Persuasive BSers seem to mistake superficial profoundness for actual profoundness. So, if something simply sounds profound, truthful, or accurate to them that means it really is. But evasive bullshitters were much better at making this distinction."