New very interesting research on ‘bullshitters’, based on PISA-data

I found this new study by John Jerrim, Phil Parker and Nikki Shure through a tweet by Christian Bokhove.  Before you get offended by the concept of ‘bullshitters’, first let me explain to you what is meant by it:

Bullshitting is a well-known social phenomenon. It can be summarised as a situation where an individual claims to have knowledge, experience or expertise in some matter, when really they do not. The label “bullshitter” is then assigned to someone who makes such claims on a regular basis; i.e. a person who consistently exaggerates their prowess and/or frequently tells untruths.

And they checked this phenomenon across nine Anglophone countries, testing a total of 2,689 schools and 62,969 pupils with a roughly 80% response rate.

How did they test the level of bullshitting with the +40000 15-years olds:

A list of 16 items were then given to students, who were asked to indicate their knowledge of that particular mathematics concept on a five-point scale (ranging from ‘never heard of it’ to ‘know it well, understand the concept’).
These constructs were:
1. Exponential function
2. Divisor
3. Quadratic function
4. Proper number
5. Linear equation
6. Vectors
7. Complex number
8. Rational number
9. Radicals
10. Subjunctive scaling
11. Polygon
12. Declarative fraction
13. Congruent figure
14. Cosine
15. Arithmetic mean
16. Probability Critically,
of these 16 constructs, three of them (items 4, 10 and 12) are fake; students are asked about their familiarity with some mathematics concepts that do not exist. W

The conclusion is very clear:

Focusing upon 15-year-olds from across nine Anglophone countries, we have investigated the characteristics of young people who claim to have knowledge and expertise in three mathematics concepts which are fake. Having derived and established the comparability of our bullshit scale via measurement invariance procedures, we go on to find that young men are more likely to bullshit than young women, and that bullshitting is somewhat more prevalent amongst those from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Compared to other countries, young people in North America are found to be bigger bullshitters than young people in England, Australia and New Zealand, while those in Ireland and Scotland are the least likely to exaggerate their mathematical knowledge and abilities. Strong evidence also emerges that bullshitters also display overconfidence in their academic prowess and problem-solving skills, while also reporting higher levels of perseverance when faced with challenges and providing more socially desirable responses than more truthful groups.

Abstract of the study:

Bullshitters’ are individuals who claim knowledge or expertise in an area where they actually have little experience or skill. Despite this being a well-known and widespread social phenomenon, relatively few large-scale empirical studies have been conducted into this issue. This paper attempts to fill this gap in the literature by examining teenagers’ propensity to claim expertise in three mathematics constructs that do not really exist. Using Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data from nine Anglophone countries and over 40,000 young people, we find substantial differences in young people’s tendency to bullshit across countries, genders and socio-economic groups. Bullshitters are also found to exhibit high levels of overconfidence and believe they work hard, persevere at tasks, and are popular amongst their peers. Together this provides important new insight into who bullshitters are and the type of survey responses that they provide.

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