Thursday, April 18, 2013

Psychology and Physiology of the Gullible

Vectorized recreation of Image:Gray726-Brodman...
Vectorized recreation of Image:Gray726-Brodman.png with highlighted prefrontal cortex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recent study have pinpointed the part of the brain that makes us gullible.

No, really. It's a part of the prefrontal cortex.

When you're told something, two parts of your mind go to work... The connection maker / interpreter, and the logic processor.

Your connection maker / interpreter  takes that "something", and tries to find connections between it and your existing knowledge ("my grandma told me something like that back when...") while your logic processor takes that something and start to analyze it for logical content (can this really be true based on what I already know/believe?)

For most of us, the brain balances out the two activities and come up with a consensus decision. It's "true" because it is "both trusted and verified".

The aforementioned study shows that in children and seniors, due to underdeveloped (or devolved) prefrontal cortex, the logic processor does not override the interpreter when it should have, leading to information classified as "true" even though it's really "trusted, no/insufficient verification".

In some people that logic center never quite developed, or the interpreter is OVERdeveloped, leading to an imbalance that makes them susceptible to superstitions, conspiracy theories and scams. They see connections everywhere (If I do this, that happens, even if this and that are unrelated), and believe everything they're told (unless it conflicts with something they already "know").

Those are the kind of people scammers love to find.

To target such people, scammers simply have a test that is rather easy to administer.

1) Do you believe something you WANT to believe is true, rather than verify that it IS true? I.e. do you automatically accept other people's narrative as true, because you WANT it to be true?

2) Do you ignore signs of oddness, something that doesn't look right, such as bad spelling, logical fallacies, inconsistencies, and so on, in someone else's narrative, as long as you agree with the narrative?

If you answer "yes" to both, you are what scammers would call "easy mark". And the Nigerian spammers are looking for people just like you: too willing to believe that people out there have fortune to share, and naive enough (want to believe enough) to ignore all the warning signs.
I want to believe
I want to believe (Photo credit: mat-)

Scammers know that most people consider the narrative that there are untold riches hiding somewhere in Africa or Middle East waiting to be shared with the random recipient of the email to be comical. They also know that there are people out there who bait scammers with false replies, as well as those who are dumb enough to believe the scam but have no money to be scammed out of. They want the people who are just right... rich enough to have money that can be scammed, but gullible enough to believe the cockamamie story they spun. And they basically tuned the story to be dumb enough to repel the smart ones, leaving the gullible ones, who are rich enough to send them money, whose logic center can't override the interpreter.

And this is a real study, funded by Microsoft, who want to know how to combat spam email.

People just *want* to believe that there is "easy money" out there.
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1 comment:

  1. Joseph Smith talked Martin Harris into mortgaging his farm to finance the printing of the first edition of The Book of Mormon. Martin Harris wanted to believe that the true gospel of Jesus had been revealed to Smith through angelic revelation. Though his wife objected, Harris gave the money to Smith, and the rest is history.