Those who spread BS are more likely to be duped by it themselves: UWaterloo study

A University of Waterloo sign. Ahmad Fareed Khan / Global News

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo found that those who attempt to show bravado or persuade people with “misleading exaggerations and distortions” were more likely to fall for similar claims.

The school says those who often peddled persuasive BS did not have high-quality BS detectors themselves, and more specifically, were unable to separate scientific facts from impressive falsehoods.

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The research showed they were also more likely to fall for fake headlines.

“It probably seems intuitive to believe that you can’t bulls–t a bulls–tter, but our research suggests that this isn’t actually the case,” said Shane Littrell, lead author of the paper.

Littrell, a cognitive psychology PhD candidate, went on to say, “in fact, it appears that the biggest purveyors of persuasive bulls–t are ironically some of the ones most likely to fall for it.”

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In the research, the UWaterloo team’s definition of BS was when someone attempted to impress, persuade, or otherwise mislead others without worrying how truthful the information they were providing was.

The team spoke with 800 people from both Canada and the U.S. to see how the participants engaged in both types of falsehoods and how “profound, truthful, or accurate they found pseudo-profound and pseudo-scientific statements and fake news headlines.”

The subjects were also asked to complete tasks using cognitive ability, metacognitive insight, intellectual overconfidence and reflective thinking.

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“We found that the more frequently someone engages in persuasive bulls–tting, 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,” Littrell said.

“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 bulls–tters were much better at making this distinction.”

The school says the study may provide assistance in the battle against the spread of fake news and other falsehoods by looking at some of the processes involved.


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