Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – few spaces left and I’m not doing it again!

Why we trust confident people

Paulina asked an interesting question“Why is it so easy for people to trust confident people?”

I wanted to check I’d understood correctly so I emailed to ask: “Are you thinking about situations where people trust someone wrongly – ie when someone sounds very confident but actually their words are deceitful, dangerous or wrong in some way? Like a conman or scammer deceiving people?” And she confirmed this was exactly what I’d meant.

How does someone like the recently-arrested “media personality”, Andrew Tate, carry huge numbers of people with him, predominantly his intended audience of young men and teenage boys? How does anyone spouting hate draw so many people to trust him, or at least to trust aspects of what he says? How does a conman/woman so persuade us of their lack of intent to harm or defraud that we give away a password, click on a link to unlock wealth, or join them on their cruel journey to whatever their intended destination? Why do decent people sometimes find themselves caught up in something harmful to themselves or cruel to others.

How and why does one person’s confidence persuade us to throw caution to the winds and act in a way we shouldn’t?

To put it even more succinctly, as Paulina did: “Why is it so easy for people to trust confident people?”

We want to trust

The simple answer is that we want and need to trust and we want the things we trust to be a) for our benefit and b) invincibly strong. So, if something or something seems both those things, we are happy to trust. Confidence looks like strength so if someone is confidently saying something that looks as though it will be to our benefit, we are very likely to trust.

If the person or thing seems quite strong but not invincibly so, or mostly to our benefit but not completely so, we will try to find ways to ignore the weaknesses and focus on the strengths. So, if we have decided that there is sufficient to like in what the conman says, we will find ways to ignore or explain away the other bits.

The reason we want and need to trust is that we are biologically programmed to make connections with other people, to build our network and shore up our group connections. This is because, by and large, connections with other people help us. Sometimes, of course, they don’t, but what significantly harms us is having no connections or bonds at all. So we are predominantly disposed to trust, more than mistrust.

A conman/woman can do a few more things to encourage our trust:

  • Smile – and make us smile
  • Distract us from the bits they know we might not like
  • Manipulate our insecurities
  • Make us feel embarrassed by our lack of trust
  • Make us feel clever or special for following them
  • Flatter us
  • Have visible markers of their own success – big cars, expensive lifestyle etc

The spam effect

Ever received one of those spam emails from HMRC or a person who says they’re lost in Colombia and need you to wire them some money and wondered how on earth anyone could fall for them? But supposing you were waiting a refund from HMRC or you did know someone with the same name as the email – you might be caught off-guard and reply. If a scammer sends the email to 10,000 people and 9,999 don’t reply but one does, he’s won. So with confidence-tricksters, it doesn’t matter if lots of people don’t fall for it as long as some do.

Don’t be so convinced you’d never be caught out.

The exhaustion effect

If you’re tired or preoccupied, you’re more likely to be taken in. And the ability to resist temptation reduces when it’s over-exercised.

Your prefrontal cortex isn’t strong enough

The prefrontal cortex, or PFC, is the part of your brain that puts the brakes on your desires and temptations and helps you make cool decisions based on predicted consequences. But very often the PFC is overwhelmed, whether by preoccupation, stress, low mood or perhaps your innate risk-taking tendency. Sometimes the cool decision just doesn’t look cool enough to your emotional, hot system that just loves being flattered and excited.

Confirmation bias

If what we hear fits with what we already believe, we are more likely both to notice and to value it. This is an aspect of confirmation bias. So, if the confidence trickster says something you agree with and like, you’re likely to latch onto that as being important and positive. And that makes you more likely to value other things the person says. “He got that right – he must know stuff – so this other thing he says is probably true, too.”

To sum up

Basically, we tend to believe what we want to believe. We want to believe what we think will benefit us or give us pleasure. We want to feel part of something and make connections. And if the person offering this to us seems confident, strong, successful, wealthy, happy, then we want to be part of that.

How can you avoid being conned?

Test the idea against a likely critic. Who do you know who would be the least likely to be taken in? Ask them to say what they think. If it’s a good idea it will stand that test. If an idea can’t stand up to criticism, it’s not worth having.

Not all bad!

Sometimes – often – trusting confident people is a good idea. Often those confident people say things that are true, valuable, wonderful, useful. I am confident when I’m speaking about the topics I know about and I hope what I say is both beneficial for you and invincibly strong.

You can trust me!

Actually, you really can. And I don’t have expensive jewellery, clothes or car. I have sold a lot of books, though…

Thanks for the question, Paulina!







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