Rich Guys Are More Likely to Bullshit You
While some people seem to have a natural ability to call BS, for other people, it isn’t quite as easy. However, here’s some help. According to a new study, rich guys are more likely to pretend they’re experts on subjects they know nothing about.
The study, published in April in the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, aptly titled “Bullshitters. Who Are They and What Do We Know About Their Lives?” assessed the ability to pretend to be an expert without actually being one — or, the ability to bullshit.
The research conducted by John Jerram and Nikki Shure of the University College of London and Phil Parker of Australian Catholic University involved assessing participants and their knowledge of 16 math topics. The study also used data from the Program for International Student Assessment, which involves tens of thousands of 15-year-olds globally. The participants answered topics based on a five-point scale from “never heard of it” up to “know it well, understand the concept.”
But there was a twist in the topics. Three of them were fake, essentially outing which of the participants were the true BSers. Those who pretended to know about the fabricated topics, “proper numbers,” “subjunctive scaling,” and “declarative fractions,” ranked highest on the BS meter.
Just who those imposters were, might surprise you. According to the study, men were more likely than women to pretend like they knew what they were talking about. There was also a difference between those who were wealthy, poor, and middle class. Rich guys, specifically, were the biggest BSers.
The study also suggested that North Americans were more likely to pretend to know about something than English speakers in other parts of the world. Incidentally, participants from Canada ranked at the top of the list.
Do you know any self-proclaimed math whizzes? It turns out, those participants were also the most likely to claim to be experts in other non-existent subject areas. According to the study, if you frequently boast about your abilities, you might also be good at bluffing and pretending to know about topics you know nothing about.
Fortunately, there are some good things about having a knack for pretending like you know about stuff that you don’t. The study’s authors wrote, “Being able to bulls—- convincingly may be useful in certain situations (e.g., job interviews, negotiations, grant applications).”
And, it could also explain why the biggest BSers also happened to be wealthy. The study suggests that this behavior “could help them earn higher wages and explain some of the gender wage gap,” said study co-author Nikki Shure. “This has important implications for thinking about tasks in job interviews and how to evaluate performance.”
One thing to note about the study is that the participants were 15-year-olds, which doesn’t necessarily mean the results apply to adults. Although the study’s authors guess that most traits like the ability to successfully bluff transfer from teenage years to adulthood, there isn’t definite proof of it.
Further, the study only involved math topics, which may or may not have something to do with the participants’ inclination to embellish on their knowledge. Who knows, maybe participants are more honest about their knowledge when it comes to other topics. In the meantime, it’s probably safest to take what your self-proclaimed math genius friends tell you with a grain of salt.