Bullshitting is intentional or unintentional, conscious or subconscious way of communicating when giving little to no regard for truth, genuine evidence, as well as the established semantic, logical, or empirical knowledge (Pennycook et al. 550). The concept can be applied to the social exchange theory, which suggests that social behavior is a result of an exchange process intended to maximise benefits and minimise costs. The theory developed by Homans implies that individuals weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages of social interactions. Through bullshitting, however, some individuals can advance in their positions within their social circles. The occurrence of bullshitting behavior is likely to be associated with the social conditions that support it, either through social expectation and norms or by those that make it easy to practice. Thus, bullshitting is unavoidable in social exchanges whenever the setting requires an individual to talk without them knowing about what they are talking (Petrocelli 250). Following this logic, people may often feel that they have an obligation to offer an informed opinion about everything, even though they do not have the knowledge or experience to do so. The people who feel such an obligation are more likely to be bullshitting because of the perceived obligation to do so.
Within the context of social interactions between people, it is also important to consider the idea that passing bullshit is easy. To elevate one’s worth and social standing, a person that is bullshitting is likely to engage in the process when they expect to receive a pass of acceptance or tolerance for their communications (Petrocelli 251). Besides, in the age of media and the ongoing rhetoric intended for persuading or distract the audiences, bullshitting has become an integral part of the mainstream narrative (Kristiansen and Kaussler 13). Furthermore, bullshitting has also been embedded into the political ideologies, thus perpetuating misinformation and cognitive dissonance (Nilsson et al. 1440). The issue exacerbates in instances in which the majority of people do not have informed opinions, and getting away with spreading false information becomes easier.
As suggested by Petrocelli, the hypothesis regarding the ease of passing bullshit aligns with the findings of social communication research (251). For example, the increased time of speaking has been positively correlated to such qualities as dominance, the lack of apprehension, leadership, as well as expertise (Petrocelli 251). Such reasoning goes with the false consensus effect phenomenon, which is associated with the overestimation of the degree to which others feel the same that a person does. Therefore, the high degree of confidence in receiving a pass within social interactions facilitates bullshitting, and the circle goes on.
When weighing out the pros and cons of social interactions, people would like to be seen as superior in the eyes of the people with whom they are communicating, and that is where bullshitting comes into play. In addition, the more times a person receives a pass for bullshitting, the better he or she becomes at doing so, and the more likely the behavior will be repeated. However, it is likely that when bullshitting is exposed, it will represent a negative point in a social relationship, which may enable its termination. It is important to acknowledge the persistent nature of bullshitting and its ramifications for social interactions, especially in the light of the social exchange theory.
Kristiansen, Lars, and Bernd Kaussler. “The Bullshit Doctrine: Fabrications, Lies, and Nonsense in the Age of Trump.” Informal Logic, vol. 38, no. 1, 2018, pp. 13-52.
Nilsson, Arthur, et al. “The Complex Relation Between Receptivity to Pseudo-Profound Bullshit and Political Ideology.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 45, no. 10, 2019, pp. 1440-1454.
Pennycook, Gordon, et al. “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-profound Bullshit.” Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10, no. 6, 2015, pp. 549-563.
Petrocelli, John. “Antecedents of Bullshitting.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 76, 2018, pp. 249-258.