When immersed in a story we may tend to let down our guard

A Dec. 29, 2015 New Yorker article is entitled: “How Stories Deceive.”

The book refers to a book by Jerome Bruner: Actual minds, possible worlds (1986).

The wider topic concerns scams and scamming.

One of the protections against scamming is evidence-based practice by which I refer to an orientation that focuses on the quality (e.g., can it be corroborated?) and source (e.g. is there a sole source or many sources?) of the evidence that a person encounters.

New York Times review

A Jan. 14, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Review: In ‘The Confidence Game’ by Maria Konnikova, the Siren Call of the Swindler.”

Jerome Bruner

The Dec. 29, 2015 New Yorker article notes:

“In his book ‘Actual Minds, Possible Worlds,’ Jerome Bruner, a central figure in the cognitive revolution in psychology, proposes that we can frame experience in two ways: propositional and narrative. Propositional thought hinges on logic and formality. Narrative thought is the reverse. It’s concrete, imagistic, personally convincing, and emotional. And it’s strong.

“In fact, Bruner argues, narrative thinking is responsible for far more than its logical, systematic counterpart. It’s the basis of myth and history, ritual and social relations. The philosopher Karl Popper ‘proposed that falsifiability is the cornerstone of the scientific method,’ Bruner told the American Psychological Association at their annual meeting, in Toronto, in the summer of 1984. ‘But believability is the hallmark of the well-formed narrative.’ Even scientists construct narratives. There is no scientific method without the narrative thread that holds the whole enterprise together. Stories make things more plausible, more convincing, and more fundable. Rightly or wrongly, a research proposal with a compelling narrative arc stands out. As the economist Robert Heilbroner once confided to Bruner, ‘When an economic theory fails to work easily, we begin telling stories about the Japanese imports.’ When a fact is plausible, we still need to test it. When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.”

[End of excerpt]

The Confidence Game (2016)

The article is adapted from The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time (2016).

A blurb at the Toronto Public Library website for the book, which is representative of a particular category of popular non-fiction, reads:


“It’s a startling and disconcerting read that should make you think twice every time a friend of a friend offers you the opportunity of a lifetime. . . . If you liked Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, you’ll love this lucid and revelatory look into our oh-so-susceptible selves.”

–Erik Larson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dead Wake and bestselling author of Devil in the White City

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, a compelling investigation into the minds, motives, and methods of con artists–and the people who fall for their cons over and over again

While cheats and swindlers may be a dime a dozen, true conmen–the Bernie Madoffs, the Jim Bakkers, the Lance Armstrongs–are elegant, outsized personalities, artists of persuasion and exploiters of trust. How do they do it? Why are they successful? And what keeps us falling for it, over and over again? These are the questions that journalist and psychologist Maria Konnikova tackles in her mesmerizing new book.

From multimillion-dollar Ponzi schemes to small-time frauds, Konnikova pulls together a selection of fascinating stories to demonstrate what all cons share in common, drawing on scientific, dramatic, and psychological perspectives. Insightful and gripping, the book brings readers into the world of the con, examining the relationship between artist and victim. The Confidence Game asks not only why we believe con artists, but also examines the very act of believing and how our sense of truth can be manipulated by those around us.

[End of text] 

Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman wrote at length, and in a manner that’s engaging, about confidence games as viewed from a symbolic interactionist perspective:

Erving Goffman began his graduate work in Chicago in 1945


A Jan. 19, 2016 CBC The Current article is entitled: “Inside the con artist’s confidence game.”

A Feb. 8, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Motherisk scandal highlights risk of deferring to experts without questioning credentials: Lab’s flawed hair testing echoes Charles Smith scandal, with similarly devastating effects.”

A Feb. 10, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Opinion vs facts: why do celebrities so often get it wrong? Celebrities often make wildly inaccurate claims and comments to millions of people. But the workings of our minds mean we’re all prone to such behaviour.”

An Oct. 3, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Ambiguous figure illusions: do they offer a window on the mind? Do you see a wife, or a mother-in-law in this picture? Ambiguous figures have intrigued scientists since the 1800s, but what can they tell us about our visual system?”

I mention the above-noted article because ambiguity drives scams.

A March 15, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “‘We are all doing it’: Employees at Canada’s 5 big banks speak out about pressure to dupe customers: Calls for parliamentary inquiry following Go Public investigation.”

A March 29, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “‘I feel duped’: Why bank employees with impressive but misleading titles could cost you big time: Most financial professionals in Canada are licensed as salespeople with no fiduciary duty to clients.”

An April 17, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “‘Canada is in the Dark Ages’: Investment insiders reveal how lax laws put your financial interests last: Despite years of calls for reform, financial industry opposes greater investor protection.”

A March 30, 2018 Scientific American article is entitled: “Cambridge Analytica and Online Manipulation: It’s not just about data protection; it’s about strategies designed to induce addictive behavior, and thus to manipulate.”


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