Centrists Have Great Bullshit Radar (in Sweden, Anyway)

Via Tyler Cowen, here are the results of “The Complex Relation Between Receptivity to Pseudo-Profound Bullshit and Political Ideology,” a recently published paper:

Among Swedish adults (N = 985), bullshit receptivity was (a) robustly positively associated with socially conservative (vs. liberal) self-placement, resistance to change, and particularly binding moral intuitions (loyalty, authority, purity); (b) associated with centrism on preference for equality and even leftism (when controlling for other aspects of ideology) on economic ideology self-placement; and (c) lowest among right-of-center social liberal voters and highest among left-wing green voters.

I don’t have access to the finished paper, but here are the main findings from a preprint version:

For some reason, “bullshit receptivity” is reversed in the chart, so lower numbers mean a higher affinity for bullshit. In Sweden, at least, the lowest tolerance for bullshit is clearly in the center: the two most centrist partisan categories have high reasoning abilities, excellent sensitivity to bullshit, and very low tolerance for it.

The highest tolerance for bullshit is among Greens and two of the right-wing parties. The far left and social democrats are about average.

What I was most curious about, however, was how the authors identified bullshit. It turns out there’s considerable prior research on this, but the paper provides one example:

We measured bullshit receptivity and profoundness receptivity by asking participants to rate the meaningfulness and profundity of seven bullshit statements (e.g., “Your movement transforms universal observations”) and seven genuine aphorisms (e.g., “Your teacher can open the door, but you have to step in”) respectively on a Likert response bar ranging from 1 (not at all meaningful) to 6 (very meaningful).

I guess that sounds reasonable, although seven statements seems a little thin. Still, I’d count this as a big win for centrists. Maybe they have more going for them than we partisan types care to admit?

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

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