Going on Facebook and looking at your feed is a masochistic tic that all too many of us are plagued with; at its worst, it's a somber reminder that, at one point in our lives or another, we were a poor judge of character and befriended dumbasses. Admittedly, there are days when I scroll through the wall of my former best friend from middle school and cackle maniacally in response to her constant stream of memes about how nice pit bulls are, nostalgic 90s posts, and of course, profound quotes about life: "'You have permission to rest. You are not responsible for fixing everything that is broken. You do not have to try and make everyone happy. For now, take time for you. It's time to replenish.' —Unknown."
According to a new Canadian study from the University of Waterloo, my ex-best friend, and others like her, are actually rather stupid. In the research paper, "On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit," PhD candidate Gordon Pennycook and four other researchers assert that there is a link between low intelligence and being impressed by seemingly profound quotes.
In the study, the researchers used a website called Sebpearce.com, which generates random statements meant to sound profound like, "This life is nothing short of an ennobling oasis of self-aware faith," or, "Today, science tells us that the essence of nature is guidance."
Nothing!!!!! Photo via Flickr user seaternity
"I came across the website, I just kind of thought about if there was any research on this; I wanted to know if people thought those statements were profound," Pennycook told VICE. "I often see quotes [on my newsfeed] that are maybe not quite as egregious, but you see a lot of motivational ones... there's quotes and a picture of somebody who obviously did not say the quote—you come across that quite often."
In the study, nearly 300 participants were presented with various statements, including those of the "bullshit" variety, and asked to react to them by rating their profoundness on a scale of one to five, classifying quotes as either profound, bullshit, or mundane. They were also given tests meant to measure their cognitive ability and personality.
The paper gave the following as an example of a statement participants were asked to respond to: "Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty."
Those who were unable to detect the bullshit and rated the pseudo-profound as actually profound were determined to be lower in intelligence, less likely to engage in reflective thinking, and more likely to hold conspiratorial or paranormal beliefs.
In other words, these types of people are, as Nietzsche once said, "Locked in the glass cabinet of the mind's self-reflection."
Follow Allison Elkin on Twitter.