If you ever feel like confronting your general disdain for humanity, just hop on Instagram.
While gratuitous selfies and filtered photos of lattes are annoying, they’re definitely not the worst offenders. Those, my friends, are pictures of swirling text that read like gag-inducing Hallmark cards. Although people who share those images (or worse yet, create them) do so with profundity in mind, they pretty much always miss the mark.
And that’s exactly what makes this study by the Society for Judgment and Decision Making so satisfying. Finally, people with degrees have decided to dive into what these sappy posts really say about the social media users who love them.
Referred to in the study as “pseudo-profound bullsh*t” (seriously), overly sentimental posts like the ones below have become so widely shared on social media that scholars felt the need to dissect them.
Their aim was not to pick apart the quotes themselves, but to examine what they said about the people they attract with their shiny, nonsensical allure.
The satisfyingly snarky rhetoric in the study implies that this phenomenon doesn’t sit well with any of the 5 researchers involved.
“Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullsh*t,” one researcher writes, “which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful, but are actually vacuous.”
One pattern they noticed was that, while typically not structurally or grammatically incorrect, these statements are essentially sentimental fluff.
To carry out the study, they presented participants with buzzwords organized into short, bite-sized statements that didn’t really say anything. They were basically just aspirational pleasantries.
While the words revealed very little in and of themselves, they highlighted something pretty telling (and slightly alarming) about the people who judged them as being profound.
As written in the study, “The propensity to judge [ridiculous] statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables, like intuitive cognitive style and supernatural belief.”
“These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullsh*t, and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism, but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive-sounding claims.”
Let’s not mince words. What they’re saying is that people who find depth in absurd statements aren’t functioning on the same level cognitively as people who don’t.
While the researchers don’t claim that these quotations are flat-out lies, they do argue that they fail to present any substantial amount of truth (as is the case with the statement below).
The first thing they noticed about people who were hit right in the feels by pseudo-profound quotes was that they were more willing to accept concepts as fact without doing any actual research.
In that vein, they also discovered that the same people then employed tactics to continue seeing these statements as being accurate after being presented with information that suggested otherwise.
The second major mechanism at work was the fact that these participants confused vagueness with profundity…which isn’t promising.
The scholars then determined that many of these people held epistemically suspect beliefs.
Someone with epistemically suspect beliefs, for example, has no problem believing in ghosts, but stands by the fact that nothing can pass through a solid object.
Essentially, people who buy into the facade of pseudo-profound bullsh*t need to step their mental game up.
And there you have it, folks. Slapping buzzwords next to a lion does not an intelligent statement make.