The cognitive scientist explains the link between intelligence and telling fibs – and why lying is such a common form of communication in fields from art to politics
Martin Turpin is a PhD researcher at the department of psychology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, who is studying linguistic bullshit. He is the lead author of a recent paper entitled Bullshit Ability As an Honest Signal of Intelligence, which found that people who produce “satisfactory bullshit” are judged to be of high intelligence by their audience.
What made you choose bullshit as a topic to research?
Two main intellectual drives led me here. I think individual human brains are fascinating machines, but there is something far more magical to me about what happens when multiple brains are organised in a network. It can be more rational to have the wrong answer but be part of a group than being a lonely person with the correct answer. That seeming contradiction from the perspective of someone who highly values truth for its own sake makes for a fascinating creature to study.
The better a participant scored on a series of cognitive tests, the more satisfying their bullshit was judged to be