Good at blagging? You may be smarter than others, too

Name: Blaggers.

Age: Any age.

Intellect: Superior.

By blaggers, you mean … I mean people blessed with the ability to bluff their way through conversations. Bullshitters if you will.

Ugh, those people are the worst. They are most certainly not the worst. In fact, studies have demonstrated that these people actually tend to possess a higher than average intelligence.

Rubbish. It isn’t rubbish at all. A study in the journal Evolutionary Psychology found that people who can invent explanations for concepts they do not understand are smarter than those who are honest about their ignorance.

How did they work that out? Researchers presented 1,017 participants with 10 concepts and asked them to rate how well they understood them on a five-point scale, from “never heard of it” to “know it well”. Some of these concepts were real, such as general relativity; others, such as “genetic autonomy”, were not.

OK … Then 534 of these participants were asked to explain these concepts, even the fake ones. A separate team, named “bullshit raters”, was tasked with reading the explanations and grading their plausibility.

That doesn’t make them smarter. No, but the participants were also tested on things such as vocabulary, abstract reasoning, non-verbal fluid intelligence and neural acceptance. The people who bluffed most convincingly tended to score highly on all these tests.

What is neural acceptance? When you’re presented with a set of new information, your synaptic plasticity attempts to find the shortest possible pathway within your brain. Those with increased neural acceptance have brains that can connect pieces of information with the minimum amount of fuss.

So people with better neural acceptance are more likely to be liars? No, for two main reasons. The first is that people who can convincingly blag their way through concepts are so intelligent that they also know when lying won’t work, and are more likely to hold back.

That’s worrying for us honest folk out there. “Smarter individuals were less willing to engage in bullshitting despite their superior skills,” said the study’s author, Mane Kara-Yakoubian. “This might be explained by their greater capacity to attribute mental states to others (ie theory of mind), enabling them to be more cognisant of when bullshitting will work and when it won’t.”

What’s the second reason? The second is that neural acceptance isn’t a real thing. I made that explanation up, because I’m smarter than you.

Oh, I see. Well done. See? If you can flannel about something you know nothing about with the right amount of authority, the whole world is yours for the taking.

Like most politicians. And some journalists. This one, mainly.

Do say: “Smart people can discuss fake concepts convincingly.”

Don’t say: “How very troncenplentary of them.”