More Cognitive Biases
This article is part of SCARS continuing commitment to helping the victims of scams (financial fraud) to better understand the psychology of scams, and specifically about how their own cognitive biases played a role in their vulnerability. In other words, why are victims vulnerable?
How Do Cognitive Biases Make People Vulnerable To Scams, Fraud, and Deception
How do cognitive biases play a role in making people vulnerable and susceptible to scams, fraud, and deception?
Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that allow people to make quick decisions and judgments based on their past experiences and memories. These biases can be helpful in many situations, as they allow people to process large amounts of information quickly and efficiently. However, they can also make people vulnerable to scams, fraud, and deception.
One reason why cognitive biases make people vulnerable to scams is that they can lead people to make judgments that are not based on evidence or logical reasoning.
There are several ways that people can protect themselves from scams, fraud, and deception. One way is to be aware of common cognitive biases and how they can affect decision-making. This can help people to be more mindful of their thought processes and to question their own judgments.
The Just-World Bias
This cognitive bias refers to the belief that the world is just and that people get what they deserve.
This bias can affect crime victims by leading them to blame themselves for the crime that was committed against them. They may feel that they did something to deserve it or that they could have prevented it, even if there is no logical reason to believe that this is true. This can lead to feelings of guilt and self-blame, which can further exacerbate the trauma of the crime.
“Everything happens for a reason”
The just-world hypothesis or just-world fallacy is the cognitive bias that assumes that “people get what they deserve” – that actions will have morally fair and fitting consequences for the actor. For example, the assumptions that noble actions will eventually be rewarded and evil actions will eventually be punished fall under this hypothesis. In other words, the just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to, or expect consequences as the result of, either a universal force that restores moral balance or a universal connection between the nature of actions and their results. This belief generally implies the existence of cosmic justice, destiny, divine providence, desert, stability, and/or order. It is often associated with a variety of fundamental fallacies, especially in regard to rationalizing suffering on the grounds that the sufferers “deserve” it.
The hypothesis popularly appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed punishment for wrongdoing, such as: “you got what was coming to you”, “what goes around comes around”, “chickens come home to roost”, “everything happens for a reason”, and “you reap what you sow”. This hypothesis has been widely studied by social psychologists since Melvin J. Lerner conducted seminal work on the belief in a just world in the early 1960s.
This is also part of the thinking behind “Kharma.”
The Self-Serving Bias
This cognitive bias refers to the tendency for people to take credit for their successes and to blame others for their failures.
This can affect crime victims by leading them to feel that they are somehow responsible for the crime that was committed against them. They may blame themselves for not being more careful or for not doing something to prevent the crime. This can lead to feelings of guilt and self-blame, which can further exacerbate the trauma of the crime.
A self-serving bias is any cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favorable manner.
It is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors. When individuals reject the validity of negative feedback, focus on their strengths and achievements but overlook their faults and failures, or take more credit for their group’s work than they give to other members, they are protecting their self-esteem from threat and injury. These cognitive and perceptual tendencies perpetuate illusions and errors, but they also serve the self’s need for esteem.
Studies have shown that similar attributions are made in various situations, such as the workplace, interpersonal relationships, sports, and consumer decisions (such as when you buy a good product, you made a good decision, but when you buy a bad one it was the manufacturer’s fault).
Both motivational processes (self-enhancement, self-presentation) and cognitive processes (i.e. locus of control, self-esteem) influence the self-serving bias. There are both cross-cultural (individualistic and collectivistic culture differences) and special clinical population (i.e. depression) considerations within the bias. Much of the research on the self-serving bias has used participant self-reports of attribution based on experimental manipulation of task outcomes or in naturalistic situations. Some more modern research, however, has shifted focus to physiological manipulations, such as emotional inducement and neural activation, in an attempt to better understand the biological mechanisms that contribute to the self-serving bias.
One final aspect of this bias applies to scam victims at the very beginning of the scam. Of course, we all know that talking to strangers was a mistake, and that stranger trust helps to pull the victim in, but so does the Self-Serving Bias because it helps to convince the victim that they deserve whatever the fake relationship is providing.
False Consensus Effect Bias
This cognitive bias refers to the tendency to overestimate the extent to which others share one’s beliefs, values, and behaviors.
This can affect crime victims by leading them to believe that their experiences and reactions to the crime are not normal or that they are alone in their feelings. This can lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of understanding from others which can further exacerbate the trauma of the crime.
In psychology, the false consensus effect, also known as consensus bias, is a pervasive cognitive bias that causes people to “see their own behavioral choices and judgments as relatively common and appropriate to existing circumstances”. In other words, they assume that their personal qualities, characteristics, beliefs, and actions are relatively widespread among the general population.
This false consensus is significant because it increases self-esteem (overconfidence effect). It can be derived from a desire to conform and be liked by others in a social environment. This bias is especially prevalent in group settings where one thinks the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population. Since the members of a group reach a consensus and rarely encounter those who dispute it, they tend to believe that everybody thinks the same way. The false-consensus effect is not restricted to cases where people believe that their values are shared by the majority, but it still manifests as an overestimate of the extent of their belief.
Additionally, when confronted with evidence that a consensus does not exist, people often assume that those who do not agree with them are defective in some way. There is no single cause for this cognitive bias; the availability heuristic, self-serving bias, and naïve realism have been suggested as at least partial underlying factors.
The bias may also result, at least in part, from non-social stimulus-reward associations. Maintenance of this cognitive bias may be related to the tendency to make decisions with relatively little information. When faced with uncertainty and a limited sample from which to make decisions, people often “project” themselves onto the situation. When this personal knowledge is used as input to make generalizations, it often results in the false sense of being part of the majority.
One of the ways that we believe this plays a role during the scam is when friends or family members try to tell the victim that the person is a scammer and that the relationship is a scam.
Since the scammer has typically provided substantial proof of their life (though all lies) from the scammer’s fake associates (daughter, lawyer, business people, etc.) the victim feels that there is a consensus of those that are involved and that their family and friends are wrong.
The Illusion of Control Bias
This cognitive bias refers to the belief that people have more control over events than they actually do.
This can affect crime victims by leading them to feel that they could have prevented the crime, even if there is no logical reason to believe that this is true (also see Hindsight Bias). This can lead to feelings of guilt and self-blame, which can further exacerbate the trauma of the crime.
The illusion of control is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events. It was named by U.S. psychologist Ellen Langer and is thought to influence gambling behavior and belief in the paranormal. Along with illusory superiority and optimism bias, the illusion of control is one of the positive illusions.
However, it also plays a major role in victims believing that they control their safety, both before a crime and after. This is especially a problem for recent scam victims as they believe it will never happen to them again. The fact is that their cognitive biases and impaired decision-making can lead them back into another scam at any time.
It’s important to note that cognitive biases like these can be a normal response to a traumatic event, but it’s important for victims to be aware of these biases and to seek help in dealing with them. This can be done through therapy, support groups, or other forms of mental health treatment. Additionally, it’s important for friends and family members to be supportive and understanding of the victim’s feelings, and to help them to see the reality of the situation rather than their cognitive biases.
All these biases have in common that they can be detrimental to the victim’s mental health, and it’s important for the victim to recognize that they are not alone and that they are not at fault for the crime committed against them.
Cognitive biases do make people more vulnerable to scams, fraud, and deception by causing them to ignore warning signs, pay more attention to information that supports their preexisting beliefs, rely on incomplete information, and anchor their decisions to easy and often incorrect information.
By being aware of these biases and making an effort to overcome them, people can be better equipped to avoid falling victim to scams and other forms of deception.