People Are More Likely to BS When There Are No Consequences


Bullsh*t isn't hard to sniff out: It proliferates on college campuses, political debate stages, and online dating profiles. Now, Poynter reports that researchers are closer to identifying what motivates people to bullsh*t in the first place.

In a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Wake Forest University psychologist John V. Petrocelli defines BS as "communications that result from little to no concern for truth, evidence and/or established semantic, logical, systemic, or empirical knowledge." To assess what makes people engage in such behaviors, he conducted two experiments. For the first one, participants were asked to fill out a survey. One had a disclosure saying they weren't required to list their thoughts, and one lacked the disclosure. Petrocelli found that subjects who felt like they had to come up with answers were more likely to make stuff up, suggesting that BS is often the result of societal pressure.

For the second experiment, undergraduate psychology students were asked to complete a similar survey. This time, participants were either given free rein to write what they wanted or told their responses would be recorded and assessed by an expert. Once again, the participants who were given the questions with no conditions were more likely to let the BS flow uninhibited.

To Petrocelli, this indicates that bullsh*tting is something people tend to do more when there's no one around to call them out on their bullsh*t. He writes in the paper, "When receiving a social pass for bullsh*tting is not expected to be easy—when people are held accountable or when they expect to justify their positions to people who disagree with their attitudes—people appear to refrain from bullsh*tting.”

These findings provide some hope for people who still value honest, transparent discourse. Bullsh*t isn't inevitable: It only flourishes under the right conditions. The best shield against BS is an ability to recognize it and hold people accountable for it. Unfortunately most people aren't great at recognizing nonsense when it's passed off as something profound.

[h/t Poynter]

This 'Time-Traveling Illusion' Is Designed to Trick Your Brain

A team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have designed an illusion that might trick your brain into seeing things that aren’t there, the New Atlas reports.

Dubbed the Illusory Rabbit, it provides instructions that are simple enough to follow. Start playing the YouTube video below and look at the cross in the middle of the screen while also watching for flashes that appear at the bottom of the screen. Most importantly, you’ll want to add up the number of flashes you see throughout the video. (And make sure your volume is up.)

We don’t want to spoil the fun, so before we explain the science of how it works, check out the video and try it for yourself.

Did you see three flashes paired with three beeps? You’re not alone. This is due to a phenomenon called postdiction, which is a little like the opposite of prediction. According to a paper outlining these findings in the journal PLOS ONE, postdiction occurs when the brain processes information retroactively [PDF]. This occurs in such a way that our perception of earlier events is altered by stimuli that come later. In this case, you might think you missed the flash paired with the second of the three beeps, so your mind goes back and tries to make sense of the missing information. That's why you may see an “illusory flash” in the middle of the screen, sandwiched between the two real flashes.

For this reason, the researchers call the mind trick a “time-traveling illusion across multiple senses” (in this case, vision and hearing). It’s successful because the beeps and flashes occur so rapidly—in less than one-fifth of a second. The senses essentially get confused, and the brain tries to fill in the gaps retroactively.

"Illusions are a really interesting window into the brain," the paper’s first author, Noelle Stiles, said in a statement. "By investigating illusions, we can study the brain's decision-making process.” Researchers wanted to find out how the brain “determines reality” when a couple of your senses (in this case, sight and hearing) are bombarded with noisy and conflicting information. When the brain isn’t sure of what’s going on, it essentially makes up information.

“The brain uses assumptions about the environment to solve this problem,” Stiles said. “When these assumptions happen to be wrong, illusions can occur as the brain tries to make the best sense of a confusing situation. We can use these illusions to unveil the underlying inferences that the brain makes."

[h/t New Atlas]

How Did 6 Feet Become the Standard Grave Depth?


It all started with the plague: The origins of “six feet under” come from a 1665 outbreak in England. As the disease swept the country, the mayor of London literally laid down the law about how to deal with the bodies to avoid further infections. Among his specifications—made in “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, Concerning the Infection of the Plague”—was that “all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.”

The law eventually fell out of favor both in England and its colonies. Modern American burial laws vary from state to state, though many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault (or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything). Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and the height of the average casket (which appears to be approximately 30 inches), a grave as shallow as four feet would be fine.

A typical modern burial involves a body pumped full of chemical preservatives sealed inside a sturdy metal casket, which is itself sealed inside a steel or cement burial vault. It’s less of a hospitable environment for microbes than the grave used to be. For untypical burials, though—where the body isn’t embalmed, a vault isn’t used, or the casket is wood instead of metal or is foregone entirely—even these less strict burial standards provide a measure of safety and comfort. Without any protection, and subjected to a few years of soil erosion, the bones of the dearly departed could inconveniently and unexpectedly surface or get too close to the living, scaring people and acting as disease vectors. The minimum depth helps keep the dead down where they belong.

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This article originally appeared in 2012.