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Monday, August 28, 2023

'You can't bullshit a bullshitter' (or can you?): Bullshitting frequency predicts receptivity to various types of misleading information

Littrell, S., Risko, E. F., & Fugelsang, J. A. (2021).
The British journal of social psychology, 60(4), 


Research into both receptivity to falling for bullshit and the propensity to produce it have recently emerged as active, independent areas of inquiry into the spread of misleading information. However, it remains unclear whether those who frequently produce bullshit are inoculated from its influence. For example, both bullshit receptivity and bullshitting frequency are negatively related to cognitive ability and aspects of analytic thinking style, suggesting that those who frequently engage in bullshitting may be more likely to fall for bullshit. However, separate research suggests that individuals who frequently engage in deception are better at detecting it, thus leading to the possibility that frequent bullshitters may be less likely to fall for bullshit. Here, we present three studies (N = 826) attempting to distinguish between these competing hypotheses, finding that frequency of persuasive bullshitting (i.e., bullshitting intended to impress or persuade others) positively predicts susceptibility to various types of misleading information and that this association is robust to individual differences in cognitive ability and analytic cognitive style.


Gaining a better understanding of the differing ways in which various types of misleading information are transmitted and received is becoming increasingly important in the information age (Kristansen & Kaussler, 2018). Indeed, an oft-repeated maxim in popular culture is, “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.” While folk wisdom may assert that this is true, the present investigation suggests that the reality is a bit more complicated. Our primary aim was to examine the extent to which bullshitting frequency is associated with susceptibility to falling for bullshit. Overall, we found that persuasive bullshitters (but not evasive bullshitters) were more receptive to various types of bullshit and, in the case of pseudo-profound statements, even when controlling for factors related to intelligence and analytic thinking. These results enrich our understanding of the transmission and detection of certain types of misleading information, specifically the associations between the propensity to produce and the tendency to fall for bullshit and will help to inform future research in this growing area of scholarship.