Dumb Inspirational Quotes, Dumber People

A new study finds that people who love bulls**t inspirational quotes have lower intelligence and more ‘conspiratorial ideations.’ Sounds about right.

12.06.15 5:01 AM ET

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Stars can't shine without darkness. A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Feeling inspired? Well, perhaps you shouldn't be, because those who post motivational quotes on social media have been found to display lower levels of intelligence than those who are more discerning over such 'profound' messages.

"On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit," a study undertaken at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, surveyed nearly 300 students on their reactions to so-called meaningful statements, which were in fact syntactically sound but quasi-nonsensical lines made up of buzzwords. They were asked to rate each statement on its level of profundity on a scale of one to five.

"Bullshit, in contrast to mere nonsense, is something that implies but does not contain adequate meaning or truth," the paper explains. It takes its meaning of the word from Harry Frankfurt's 2005 work "On Bullshit," which defines it as something engineered to impress yet requiring no direct concern for the truth. "It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction," he wrote.

In this particular study, participants' personality traits were also analyzed in order to create a clear picture of those who were most likely to be impressed by motivational quotes.

"More analytic individuals should be more likely to detect the need for additional scrutiny when exposed to pseudo-profound bullshit," the researchers posit. For those who scored highly on the profundity levels of buzzword-filled sayings, researchers detected lower numerative and cognitive abilities, as well as lower general intelligence levels. The bullshit-lovers were also found to have more "conspiratorial ideations" than those unimpressed by such statements, as well as lesser ability in verbal fluidity and being reflective.

The paper, which uses the word "bullshit" more than 200 times, addresses Twitter's role in the surge of online meaninglessness. It cites a Deepak Chopra tweet—which reads, "Attention and intention are the mechanics of example"—to reinforce its claims.

"The vagueness...indicates that it may have been constructed to impress upon the reader some sense of profundity at the expense of a clear exposition of truth."

"Bullshit is not only common, it is popular," note the researchers of Chopra's appeal (that line is, in fact, a more meaningful tweet from The New Yorker's Maria Konnikova). Indeed, Chopra has amassed more than 20 New York Times Bestsellers and over 2.5 million Twitter followers. The latter site's stringent 140 character limit is key to the proliferation of such "woo-woo nonsense" posts, as having to shrink down statements is a surefire way of reducing the quality and clarity of meaning.

Given the popularity of inspirational quote groups on the likes of Facebook (one such page has more than 3 million likes, and numerous others have accrued hundreds of thousands), their spread is proliferating rapidly, and nonsense, by proxy, is doing so just as quickly.

Frankfurt purports that "one of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share." Perhaps inspirational quotes plastered across social media are just the most prevalent 21st-century expression of our culture's defining quality.