“Good health corresponds with karmic life.” Quote like this may sound astute, and even enlightening, but they don't mean much. A team of researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada investigated the quality behind quotes to determine if people could notice the difference between deep and introspective quotes and those that were completely baloney. The study, published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, demonstrates how less intelligent people tend to find meaning in the meaningless.

It all started when Gordon Pennycook, a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo, came across the “New Age Bulls--t Generator,” a website designed to create nonsensical inspirational quotes. At first, many of the quotes present themselves in colorful language with an alluring tone that mimics a true inspirational quote. But upon second look, readers realize the falsehood. Well, at least relatively intelligent people can.

"I thought, 'I wonder if people would actually rate such blatant bulls--t as profound,'" the study’s lead author Pennycook, told the Huffington Post. "The study sort of went from there."

Pennycook and his team tested 800 participants by asking them if they could tell the difference between a true statement and a phony one. Researchers used the randomly generated sayings from New Age Bulls--t along with those from another site called “The enigmatic wisdom of Deepak Chopra.” In a series of tests, they were first asked to rate how profound or deep the statements were on a scale of 1 to 5. Roughly 27 percent of participants gave an average score of 3 or more, which indicated they were “tricked” by the phony and deceiving inspirational quotes. In the second round, researchers mixed in some legitimate quotes by spiritual leader Deepak Chopra with the falsely generated quotes.

"Although this statement may seem to convey some sort of potentially profound meaning, it is merely a collection of buzzwords put together randomly in a sentence that retains syntactic structure," the study’s authors wrote.

Participants were supposed to weed apart the false quotes from real quotes. Researchers found those who rated themselves as highly religious and believed in conspiracy theories. were more likely to believe in the nonsense. The researchers also mixed in a few mundane sentences bereft of profound meaning, like “newborn babies require constant attention.” Yet, nearly 20 percent still believed the quotes were, on average, profound.

Source: Pennycook G, Cheyne JA, Barr N, Koehler DJ, and Fugelsand JA. On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making. 2015.