Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication and Information

Major Professor

Michael R. Kotowski

Committee Members

Courtney N. Wright, Jenny L. Crowley, Garriy Shteynberg


The “bullshit” construct used within social influence involves presenting ambiguous message content as an ersatz substitute for missing reasoning. This pseudo-reasoning combines with clearer source or affect cues that drive the target toward a desired conclusion. Bullshit receptivity (BSR) has presented a popular focus of research, especially considering the use of pseudo-reasoning within viral disinformation (Van Bavel et al, 2020). Most BSR research has involved non-experimental correlational tests with trait-like, individual cognitive variables, their explanation of BSR’s cause remaining limited and inconsistent (Pennycook et al, 2015). However, influence tactics employing bullshit commonly derive their effects from fulfilling targets’ motivated needs and addressing their accessible knowledge structures (Brown et al, 2019; Carpenter, 2017; Kruglanski & Thompson, 1999). Attitude and knowledge structures partially emerge from and depend upon individuals’ connections to the groups with which they identify (Smith & Hogg, 2008; Terry & Hogg, 1996), and self-uncertain individuals exhibit attraction to group-based messages that reduce their uncertainty (Hogg, 2007). This project tested the hypothesis that self-uncertainty and message cues identifying sources as sharing social identities with subjects positively predict the acceptance of pseudo-reasoning and compliant responses to compliance gaining messages accompanied by pseudo-reasoning.

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