I was reading outside my discipline, which is always good for a surprise. It was a paper titled “Something’s Going on Here: Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories“, which isn’t that far outside my interests, and was actually rather interesting. Here’s the abstract:
Research on individual-difference factors predicting belief in conspiracy theories has proceeded along several independent lines that converge on a profile of conspiracy believers as individuals who are relatively untrusting, ideologically eccentric, concerned about personal safety, and prone to perceiving agency in actions and profundity in bullshit. The present research represents the first attempt at an integrative approach to testing the independent contributions of these diverse factors to conspiratorial thinking. Two studies (N=1,253) found that schizotypy, dangerous-world beliefs, and bullshit receptivity independently and additively predict endorsement of generic (i.e., nonpartisan) conspiracy beliefs. Results suggest that “hyperactive” agency detection and political orientation (and related variables) might also play a role. The studies found no effects of situational threats (mortality salience or a sense of powerlessness)—though it remains to be seen whether real-world instantiations of situational threats might move some people to seek refuge in conspiratorial ideation.
One phrase leapt off the page at me: “bullshit receptivity”. This is a thing? They have a way to measure it? They do!
Bullshit receptivity. Participants’ receptivity to superficially profound statements was measured using the Bullshit Receptivity Scale (Pennycook et al., 2015). This measure consists of nine seemingly impressive statements that follow rules of syntax and contain fancy words, but do not have any intentional meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”; “Imagination is inside exponential space time events”). Participants rated each of the items’ profoundness on a scale from 1 (Not at all profound) to 5 (Very profound). They were given the following definition of profound for reference: “of deep meaning; of great and broadly inclusive significance.”
I love the name. I love that they have to define “profound” for their subjects. I also found their result interesting:
Exploratory regression analyses showed that the association between agency detection and conspiracy belief dropped most markedly when controlling for bullshit receptivity (and to some extent dangerous world beliefs). This suggests that a tendency toward agency detection might contribute to bullshit receptivity, or that they share a common psychological substrate in relation to their association with conspiracy belief.
Spurious belief in agency and conspiracies is associated with an acceptance of pseudo-profundities? I am not surprised. That explains a lot.
Now I want to see the Bullshit Receptivity measured in fans of Deepak Chopra and Jordan Peterson. It’s got to be off the scale.