Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Hidden wisdom or pseudo-profound bullshit? The effect of speaker admirability

Kara-Yakoubian, et al.
(2021, October 28).


How do people reason in response to ambiguous messages shared by admirable individuals? Using behavioral markers and self-report questionnaires, in two experiments (N = 571) we examined the influence of speakers’ admirability on meaning-seeking and wise reasoning in response to pseudo-profound bullshit. In both studies, statements that sounded superficially impressive but lacked intent to communicate meaning generated meaning-seeking, but only when delivered by high admirability speakers (e.g., the Dalai Lama) as compared to low admirability speakers (e.g., Kim Kardashian). The effect of speakers’ admirability on meaning-seeking was unique to pseudo-profound bullshit statements and was absent for mundane (Study 1) and motivational (Study 2) statements. In Study 2, participants also engaged in wiser reasoning for pseudo-profound bullshit (vs. motivational) statements and did more so when speakers were high in admirability. These effects occurred independently of the amount of time spent on statements or the complexity of participants’ reflections. It appears that pseudo-profound bullshit can promote epistemic reflection and certain aspects of wisdom, when associated with an admirable speaker.

From the General Discussion

Pseudo-profound language represents a type of misinformation (Čavojová et al., 2019b; Littrell et al., 2021; Pennycook & Rand, 2019a) where ambiguity reigns. Our findings suggest that source admirability could play an important role in the cognitive processing of ambiguous misinformation, including fake news (Pennycook & Rand, 2020) and euphemistic language (Walker et al., 2021). For instance, in the case of fake news, people may be more inclined to engage in epistemic reflection if the source of an article is highly admirable. However, we also observed that statements from high (vs. low) admirability sources were judged as more profound and were better liked. Extended to misinformation, a combination of greater perceived profundity, liking, and acquired meaning could potentially facilitate the sharing of ambiguous fake news content throughout social networks. Increased reflective thinking (as measured by the CRT) has also been linked to greater discernment on social media, with individuals who score higher on the CRT being less likely to believe fake news stories and share this type of content (Mosleh et al., 2021; Pennycook & Rand, 2019a). Perhaps, people might engage in more epistemic reflection if the source of an article is highly admirable, which may in turn predict a decrease in the sharing behaviour of fake news. Similarly, people may be more inclined to engage in epistemic reflection for euphemistic language, such as the term “enhanced interrogation” used in replacement of “torture,” and conclude that this type of language means something other than what it refers to, if used by a more admirable (compared to a less admirable) individual.