There was a study that came out recently explaining that if you’re good at the art of bullshit you’re probably smarter than average. What’s funny about the study is how it was hatched. Mane Kara-Yakoubian, a graduate student at Ryerson University, was first looking into how psuedo profound titles of artwork skewed the perception of the art piece.
She found that when an art piece was named something like “The Deaf Echo” rather than “Canvas 8,” people talking about it could bullshit about it better. In fine art majors a lot of what you’re dealing with is making things up that serve the purpose of explaining things in a way that helps prove your point of view. Which is basically the definition of bullshitting. As a former art student I find this hilarious because it’s one hundred percent just making stuff up about an art piece when you’re critiquing.
She took it a step further and ran an actual study on bullshitting and the willingness to do so. Within that study it was found that those that were better at bullshitting also scored higher on cognitive tests.
Researchers recruited 1,017 participants for two studies. One would examine cognitive ability and the other the willingness to bullshit, and bullshitting ability. They gave participants 10 different subjects to rate on a scale of “Yes, I know all about this” to “I don’t know anything about this.” Some of the subjects were real and some weren’t. It was found that the people who said they knew all about the fake subjects were more willing to make up the concepts around them. When asked to explain them they were told to make up something that would make sense and convince others they knew what they were talking about.
In the second part of the study the people who came up with the explanations were rated on a scale as to how believable their answers were.
Kara-Yakouban explained to the PsyPost,
“A person’s bullshitting ability is positively associated with how smart they seem and how smart they genuinely are. We propose that bullshitting may have emerged as an energetically inexpensive strategy of obtaining prestige, status, or goods in domains where success is determined by the subjective evaluation of others (such as the fine arts, politics, public speaking, etc.) A person can go through the process of acquiring the necessary skills to succeed in a particular domain, or they can bullshit their way through it, and be rewarded similarly”
That’s not mutually exclusive to intelligence however. They also found that people with high IQ’s were sometimes less willing to engage in bullshitting. Their theory was because it was mentally strenuous and they could determine when it was worth it and when it wasn’t.
You can read the entire study here. “Bullshit Ability as an Honest Signal of Intelligence” was authored by Martin Harry Turpin, Mane Kara-Yakoubian, Alexander C. Walker, Heather E. K. Walker, Jonathan A. Fugelsang, and Jennifer A. Stolz.