Author and social psychologist, John V. Petrocelli, starts this book by clarifying that when studying “bullshit,” he is “not concerned with the content of communication. Rather, I’m interested in how people communicate—their underlying concern for evidence or established knowledge and the manner in which they promote and defend claims” (p. 14).

Taking aim at the Myers-Briggs personality test, TED Talks, and the value of diamonds, among other things, Petrocelli’s goal is to prepare his readers to “seek evidence and truth rather than permitting people to continue bullshitting you” (p. 24).

This book is an important resource as we navigate, and help our patients, families, and friends navigate, the pervasive misinformation to which we are exposed each day. Some of the potentially useful and sometimes fascinating topics in this book, include:

  • A description of the “illusory truth effect,” which is the tendency to believe false information after repeated exposure (p. 52).
  • A discussion of what makes people more likely to be “bullible” (gullible to bullshit), including personal, contextual, cognitive, emotional and motivational components (Chapter 2).
  • A suggestion to ask “how” someone knows something to be true or “how” something works rather than “why” they think it is true in order to force an evidence-based response rather than an opinion or argument in favor of the statement. Encouraging this change in questioning can decrease an individual’s bullibility (p. 84).
  • Details about the “framing effect,” in which people tend to lean toward one choice or another simply based on how each is presented. For example, Petrocelli describes drug A or B and drug C or D with different framing to demonstrate that people will typically choose the riskless option when presented in a gains-based framework and the risky option when presented with a loss-based framework (pp. 89-92).
  • In discussing the motivational aspects of bullibility, Petrocelli offers a litmus test for determining whether a fact-based approach will be effective. Petrocelli writes, “ask the person, ‘If it could be proven, without a shadow of a doubt that A is not correct and that B is correct, would you believe that B is true?’ If the person tells you no, then you know their endorsement of bullshit is motivationally based. In such a case, it makes no sense to continue wasting your breath. Your facts-based approach will only be met with more pushback, and you will thereby unnecessarily expose yourself to more bullshit” (p. 98).
  • A chapter dedicated to “When and why people bullshit,” including who is most likely to do so and a discussion of the motivating factors for doing so (Chapter 3).
  • Six common tactics used by people Petrocelli calls “bullshit artists” (pp. 138-165).
  • Five types of questions critical thinkers ask themselves about information (pp. 173-174).
  • A description of the “weighted-additive model” of decision-making (pp. 217-218).

In his concluding chapter, Petrocelli encourages readers to “join the collective stand against bullshit” (p. 235) and provides a series of principles for doing so.

Find out more, read an excerpt or get the book:

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