People who misjudge meaningless sentences as profound statements are more likely to use essential oils and find them effective, according to new research that appears in the scientific journal PLOS One.
Essential oils extracted from plants are commonly used with massages and aromatherapy. But the oils are also marketed as natural remedies for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, autism, depression, stress, pain, insomnia, high blood pressure, bacterial infections, skin conditions, and even spiritual and relationship problems.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission recently took action against several companies for fraudulently claiming that essential oils and other remedies could prevent, treat or cure COVID-19.
“The essential oils industry is an enormous one. It is very popular among people and makes a number of claims about the mental and physical health benefits that they bring,” explained lead researcher William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
“We were more interested in who is the typical consumer of essential oils? Who thinks that they are most beneficial? And who spends the most money on them? To our surprise, no studies had really looked at these factors.”
Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and an undergraduate subject pool, the researchers surveyed a sample of 1,202 participants regarding their personality traits, bullshit receptivity, use of essential oils, and other factors. They found that 66% of participants said they were currently using essential oils. Women were more likely to be currently using essential oils than men.
A statistical analysis found that personality traits were mostly unrelated to use of essential oils, but those high in bullshit receptivity were 70% more likely to use essential oils and were more likely to find them effective.
“Of all the personality and personal variables we looked at, being high in receptivity to bullshit was the most consistent predictor. Bullshit receptivity reflects people’s willingness to endorse meaningless statements as meaningful,” Chopik told PsyPost.
In particular, people high in bullshit receptivity are more likely to view statements such as “As you self-actualize, you will enter into infinite empathy that transcends understanding” as profound.
“People high in this trait were more likely to believe that essential oils had magical healing properties, even if the essential oils were not marketed to solve those problems. They thought essential oils could improve their friendships and spiritual life in addition to all the other ailments that befall people,” Chopik explained.
High religiosity also positively predicted spending money on essential oils and finding them to be effective, while being conservative was associated with the use of essential oils for spiritual enhancement.
“We’re not exactly sure why people who are receptive to bullshit are more likely to use essential oils. On one hand, they could be naively taking the claims essential oil companies make at face value. On another hand, perhaps they trick themselves into actually perceiving benefits (or maybe they unconsciously do so),” Chopik added.
The study, “Individual differences in personality predict the use and perceived effectiveness of essential oils“, was authored by Lindsay S. Ackerman and William J. Chopik.