What might cause someone to erroneously rate pseudo-profound bullshit as profound?
In our view, there are two candidate mechanisms that might explain a general “receptivity” to bullshit.
The first mechanism relates to the possibility that some people may have a stronger bias toward accepting things as true or meaningful from the outset.
According to Gilbert (1991, following Spinoza), humans must first believe something to comprehend it.
This asymmetry between belief and unbelief may partially explain the prevalence of bullshit; we are biased toward accepting bullshit as true and it therefore requires additional processing to overcome this bias.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that previous work on belief and doubt focused on meaningful propositions such as “The heart produces all mental activity.” The startling possibility with respect to pseudo-profound bullshit is that people will first accept the bullshit as true (or meaningful) and, depending on downstream cognitive mechanisms such as conflict detection (discussed below), either retain a default sense of meaningfulness or invoke deliberative reasoning to assess the truth (or meaningfulness) of the proposition.
Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements.