I came across an interesting article, published in the New York Times on June 11, 1950
, that discusses a series of experiments examining how likely it is that college students will bluff their way through exams. For instance, when Professor Samuel Fernberger, of the University of Pennsylvania, gave his students their final exam, in one of the questions he asked them to define "psychoterminality." It was a meaningless term, but the students didn't know that. According to the NY Times:
Only two students honestly stated they did not know what the term meant. Six left the question blank. But the other twenty-one handed in expositions, ranging from one-half to three pages long, in which they solemnly described it as, among other things, "automatism," "vitalism," "hypnosis" and the "behavior of the lower animals." It was astonishing because, of course, Dr. Fernberger had just coined this mythical word for the occasion.
Professors Ernst F. Thelin and Paul C. Scott of the University of Cincinnati conducted the most thorough investigation of bluffing. They gave 147 college students a test that included numerous trick questions. For instance, they asked the students to indicate the authors of nonexistent books or to define made-up words:
Bluffing was defined by the investigators as "pretending to have greater knowledge than is actually possessed." Some bluffing was done by all students, varying from 5 to 81 per cent. Freshmen bluffed most; seniors least. The average bluffing score of the men (45.8 per cent) was slightly higher than that of the women (43.4 per cent).
Finally the article refers to a study that examined other members of society. An investigator visited bakery shops and asked for "scroofles":
Instead of saying they'd never heard of this mythical product... a surprising number of bakers bluffed they were just out of 'scroofles,' or were not baking 'scroofles' currently because of the lack of demand.
My hunch is that all the figures for the prevalence of bluffing would be even higher today than they were in 1950. But today we'd be more likely to call it bullshitting