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The Guru Effect


Obscurity of expression is considered a flaw. Not so, however, in the speech or writing of intellectual gurus. All too often, what readers do is judge profound what they have failed to grasp. Here I try to explain this “guru effect” by looking at the psychology of trust and interpretation, at the role of authority and argumentation, and at the effects of these dispositions and processes when they operate at a population level where, I argue, a runaway phenomenon of overappreciation may take place.

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  1. I am using here the English word “guru,” not the Sanskrit word from which it is derived.

  2. For the distinction between intuitive and reflective beliefs, see Sperber 1997.

  3. Wason 1960. See Mercier and Sperber 2009 for a new approach to the confirmation bias.

  4. This is a central claim of Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1995)

  5. See Sperber 2001

  6. For doubts that it is so, see Dennett 1989.

  7. See Sperber 1996


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Correspondence to Dan Sperber.

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Sperber, D. The Guru Effect. Rev.Phil.Psych. 1, 583–592 (2010).

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  • Confirmation Bias
  • External Reason
  • Internal Reason
  • Relevant Interpretation
  • Intellectual Style