No matter what they claim, most people have fallen prey to a scam, at least once in their lives. From simple cons at the vegetable market to major scams in the stock market, everyone has a story. Once they know they’ve been had, most people get extremely suspicious as a way to counter getting tricked. A more useful reaction is to understand why you get fooled. Why do we look past what seems quite obvious in retrospect? The answer lies in psychology and the con-men know it best.
Magicians have known for centuries. Their sleight of hand and use of distraction, while they may not realize the science behind it, is based on the loopholes in the brain—this includes biases, over-confidence, poor attention spans and more. They know that people tend to be locked into certain patterns of thinking and they take advantage of it. This knowledge also means that they can spot a swindler or a bogus theory or a made-up monster without blinking since they understand why people would be fooled.
A major reason for why we get fooled is over-confidence. Most people think they are too smart to be fooled. Their brains come up with alternate pathways so that they don’t have to admit that they were wrong. They would rather give the conman, the benefit of the doubt. We end up taken in by things that are objectively impossible but we prefer whatever explanation makes us believe that we weren’t wrong. When you go into a situation with the assumption that you are too smart to be fooled, you will never see it coming. Instead admit that you have blind-spots and ask lots of questions.
People are often easily distracted. They’re usually texting or otherwise in a day-dream. It makes it very easy to cheat them. Change blindness in humans is a recorded phenomenon. This means that we tend not to notice changes, often large, when we are distracted or focused on something else. Often, there is not even a need for distraction. Studies have shown that people miss out on changes in pictures that have the same background but major other differences. These two images are shown one after the other and people still miss it. The next time someone is talking really fast or gesturing really wildly, pay close attention to what they’re really saying and also to what they aren’t saying. Often, the lie is in the omission.
We’ve all got into arguments with people over events that happened, just a few nights ago. Everyone is convinced that their recollection is perfect and everyone else is wrong. Even when it was just a few days ago, everyone’s memory of it seems different. This could be explained by the fact that our brains have a delete button. In addition, neuroscience and psychology has found that we get the highest resolution at the centre of the eye. As we go to the edges, it lowers. Our blinking and constant moving of our eyes, often involuntarily, results in sections being cut off. Our memories and our perceptions, quite literally, are flawed. But we don’t think that either could be wrong. An example where this comes into play is if someone has been giving you a combination of originals and fakes of a certain product. Even if there is a possibility that you were cheated, your brain will selectively point out all those originals and just like that, you’re convinced by your memory and your perception.
It is not always greed that causes people to fall for schemes though it is definitely part of it. There are times when people genuinely have needs that they can’t fulfil and that makes them participate in something-for-nothing ideas that leave them worse off. It is hard to admit a vice like greed, though it is somewhere within us. We all like the idea of luxury and riches and often when our heads are in the clouds, we land in a ditch.
Our brains function in such a way that physical experiences are more valid than theoretical ones. If you saw a psychic or mentalist in action and they made something move without seeming to touch it; that is a memory of supposed physical proof. If someone who has studied psychics and knows how they pull off their tricks, explains to you that theoretically, it can be proven that the psychic is lying, you will still trust the ‘physical’ experience from your memory. In your mind, what you saw is greater than any theory.
We live in a world that is less than ideal. Everyone is out for their own gain and often they don’t care who they have to step over to get it. While you obviously cannot shut yourself away and exist in a bubble of suspicion, without interaction, you can still avoid being tricked. Study the way our brains work and try to fill in the vulnerabilities that you have. Staying vigilant and alert while making transactions, whether big or small is obviously a practice you should begin. In conclusion, accept that you can be fooled but understand that you can learn from it.
Rajh is a serial entrepreneur with ventures in knowledge process outsourcing, hospitality, retail, IT and e-commerce. He has over 25 years of corporate experience and expertise in key roles of leadership, strategy, planning & management. Rajh is especially skilled at developing new profit centers within scheduled timelines and costs while ensuring operational efficiencies through long-term strategic planning. His core expertise includes delivering customized and cost-effective solutions to meet the operational and financial goals of the organization and its stakeholders. Rajh holds an MBA in Marketing from the University of Mumbai.