Our psychological vulnerability to the con

2021-03-28

in Bombs and rockets, Psychology, Security

In the 1950s, the linguist David Maurer began to delve more deeply into the world of confidence men than any had before him. He called them, simply, “aristocrats of crime.” Hard crime—outright theft or burglary, violence, threats—is not what the confidence artist is about. The confidence game—the con—is an exercise in soft skills. Trust, sympathy, persuasion. The true con artist doesn’t force us to do anything; he makes us complicit in our own undoing. He doesn’t steal. We give. He doesn’t have to threaten us. We supply the story ourselves. We believe because we want to, not because anyone made us. And so we offer up whatever they want—money, reputation, trust, fame, legitimacy, support—and we don’t realize what is happening until it is too late. Our need to believe, to embrace things that explain our world, is as pervasive as it is strong. Given the right cues, we’re willing to go along with just about anything and put our confidence in just about anyone. Conspiracy theories, supernatural phenomena, psychics: we have a seemingly bottomless capacity for credulity. Or, as one psychologist put it, “Gullibility may be deeply ingrained in the human behavioral repertoire.” For our minds are built for stories. We crave them, and, when there aren’t ready ones available, we create them. Stories about our origins. Our purpose. The reasons the world is the way it is. Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find an explanation. A confidence artist is only to happy to comply—and the well-crafted narrative is his absolute forte.

Konnikova, Maria. The Confidence Game. Why We Fall for It… Every Time. Penguin Books, 2016. p. 5-6

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