Suggestibility Is One Of The Reasons Most People Can Be Scammed
Please note, this article will talk about one type of victim vulnerability. This is one piece in the psychological puzzle that is the mind of a scam victim – before, during, and after the scam, but it is not the only factor. It is important to look at the whole psychological makeup of victims to fully understand how victims become scammed/defrauded and how they can avoid them in their future.
What Is Suggestibility?
Suggestibility refers to the psychological tendency or susceptibility of an individual to accept and act upon suggestions or information provided by others. It is the extent to which a person is influenced by external factors and is open to adopting beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors suggested to them.
Suggestibility can manifest in various ways, including:
- Verbal suggestions: Individuals with high suggestibility may be more responsive to verbal cues and suggestions. They might easily accept and internalize information presented to them, even if it contradicts their previous beliefs or experiences.
- Non-verbal cues: Suggestibility is not limited to verbal communication. People can be influenced by non-verbal cues, body language, or subtle signals. For example, a salesperson’s persuasive gestures or expressions can impact a suggestible person’s decision-making.
- Social context: The social environment plays a role in suggestibility. People tend to conform to social norms and expectations, which can influence their susceptibility to suggestion. In certain situations, individuals may be more prone to adopt the beliefs or behaviors of a group, even if it goes against their own judgments.
- Authority figures: Suggestibility often emerges in the presence of authority figures or individuals perceived as experts. People may be more likely to accept suggestions or directives from those they consider knowledgeable or authoritative, even if the information is inaccurate or misleading.
- Emotional state: Suggestibility can be influenced by emotional factors. When individuals are in a heightened emotional state, such as fear, excitement, or distress, they may be more receptive to suggestions. Emotions can cloud judgment and reduce critical thinking, making suggestible individuals more susceptible to manipulation.
It is important to note that suggestibility is a normal aspect of human psychology and can vary from person to person. Factors such as personality traits, cognitive processes, past experiences, and individual differences contribute to the degree of suggestibility a person exhibits.
Understanding suggestibility can help individuals be more aware of their own vulnerabilities and make informed decisions. It also underscores the importance of critical thinking, independent judgment, and skepticism in evaluating information and resisting undue influence or manipulation.
How Does It Ably To Crime Victims?
Suggestibility is the tendency to accept and incorporate suggestions into one’s own thinking. It can be a factor in crime victimization in a number of ways.
- Suggestibility can make it easier for criminals to manipulate victims. Criminals may use suggestive language or techniques to get victims to comply with their demands. For example, a robber might say something like, “Give me your money or I’ll hurt you.” This suggestion could make the victim more likely to hand over their money, even if they would not have done so if the robber had not made the suggestion.
- Suggestibility can also make it more difficult for victims to remember the details of a crime. If a victim is suggestible, they may be more likely to incorporate suggestions from others into their memories of the crime. This can make it difficult for them to accurately recall what happened, which can make it harder for the police to investigate the crime.
- Suggestibility can also lead to false memories. If a victim is repeatedly exposed to suggestions about what happened during a crime, they may start to believe that these suggestions are actually memories. This can lead to false memories of the crime, which can be very damaging to the victim.
There are a number of factors that can influence suggestibility, including age, personality, and prior experience with trauma. Children are generally more suggestible than adults, and people who have experienced trauma are also more likely to be suggestible.
Suggestibility And Scams
Suggestibility can play a significant role in people being scammed, as it makes individuals more susceptible to manipulation and persuasion techniques employed by scammers. Suggestibility refers to a person’s inclination or vulnerability to accept and act upon suggestions or information, even if they might be dubious or false.
Scammers often rely on various psychological tactics to exploit the suggestibility of their targets.
Here are a few ways suggestibility can contribute to falling for scams:
- Trusting authority: Suggestible individuals may be more likely to trust someone who presents themselves as an authority figure, such as a supposed expert or a person claiming to represent a legitimate organization. Scammers often pose as trustworthy individuals, using titles or affiliations to gain credibility and persuade victims to believe their claims.
- Emotional manipulation: Suggestible people may be more susceptible to emotional appeals. Scammers often evoke strong emotions like fear, excitement, or urgency to cloud judgment and override critical thinking. By manipulating emotions, scammers can prevent victims from thinking rationally and increase the chances of compliance.
- Social proof: Suggestible individuals tend to rely heavily on social cues and the behavior of others to make decisions. Scammers exploit this by creating an illusion of social proof through fake testimonials, reviews, or by using accomplices to vouch for their credibility. The presence of seemingly satisfied customers or endorsements can sway suggestible individuals into believing the scam is legitimate.
- Cognitive biases: Suggestibility can amplify cognitive biases, which are systematic errors in thinking that affect our judgments and decisions. Scammers exploit biases like the scarcity effect (creating a false sense of limited availability), the authority bias (leveraging perceived authority figures), or the familiarity bias (using familiar symbols or names to gain trust) to manipulate suggestible individuals into falling for their schemes.
- Rapid rapport building: Suggestible people may be more receptive to individuals who quickly establish rapport and create a sense of connection. Scammers often employ persuasive techniques to build trust rapidly, such as mirroring the victim’s behavior, demonstrating empathy, or appearing friendly and relatable. This can lower the victim’s guard and make them more likely to comply with the scammer’s requests.
It’s important to note that while suggestibility plays a role in scams, anyone can become a victim, regardless of their level of suggestibility. Scammers continuously refine their tactics to exploit human vulnerabilities, making it crucial for individuals to stay informed, exercise critical thinking, and maintain a healthy skepticism when encountering suspicious offers or requests.
Suggestibility After Trauma
Trauma can have a big impact on suggestibility, often increasing a person’s susceptibility to suggestion. We see this in their tendency to believe urban legends and fake information spread by amateurs, and their willingness to believe in anti-scam hate groups. It also increases their likelihood of becoming scammed again and again without proper professional counseling and support.
When individuals experience traumatic events, it can affect their psychological and emotional well-being, as well as their cognitive processes.
Here are some ways in which trauma can influence suggestibility:
- Heightened emotional arousal: Traumatic experiences often evoke intense emotions such as fear, shock, or helplessness. When individuals are in a highly emotional state, their cognitive functioning are typically compromised, and they may be more susceptible to suggestion. The overwhelming emotions can disrupt critical thinking and make it difficult to evaluate information objectively.
- Dissociation: Trauma can lead to dissociation, which is a defense mechanism that involves a temporary detachment from one’s thoughts, emotions, or memories. Dissociation can create a state of reduced self-awareness, making individuals more vulnerable to external influence. They may be more prone to accepting suggestions or adopting beliefs without careful scrutiny.
- Trust and Authority Issues: Trauma can erode a person’s trust in others, particularly if the trauma was caused by someone in a position of authority or trust. Paradoxically, this mistrust can make individuals more susceptible to manipulation because they may seek guidance or reassurance from others (such as amateur anti-scam groups). Scammers or manipulators can exploit this vulnerability by posing as trustworthy figures and taking advantage of the person’s longing for support. Real support does not exploit suggestibility, instead, real support offers truth and knowledge so that victims can learn and make up their own minds.
- Reconstructive Memory: Traumatic events can disrupt memory processes, leading to fragmented or distorted recall. Individuals may have difficulty accurately remembering the details of the traumatic events or may experience memory gaps. This can make them more susceptible to suggestive information or leading questions, as they may rely on external cues to fill in the gaps in their memory.
- Desire for Control or Closure: Trauma often leaves individuals feeling a loss of control or a sense of uncertainty. In such situations, they may be more inclined to seek answers, explanations, or closure. This desire for control can make them more receptive to suggestions or explanations that provide a sense of certainty or resolution, even if those suggestions are false or misleading.
It’s important to note that not everyone who has experienced trauma will necessarily exhibit significantly increased suggestibility, but it is the rule rather than the exception. The impact of trauma on suggestibility can vary based on individual factors, such as resilience, coping mechanisms, and social support.
Addressing the impact of trauma on suggestibility involves providing appropriate psychological support and interventions to help individuals process their traumatic experiences, rebuild trust, and develop healthy coping strategies. Therapy and counseling can play a vital role in assisting individuals in restoring their sense of agency, self-awareness, and critical thinking abilities.
There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the risk of suggestibility in crime victims. These include:
- Educating victims about suggestibility. Victims should be aware of the ways in which suggestibility can affect their memories of a crime. This can help them to be more critical of suggestions that they receive from others.
- Providing victims with support. Victims who are experiencing emotional distress are more likely to be suggestible. Providing them with support can help to reduce their emotional distress and make them less susceptible to suggestion.
- Using non-suggestive interviewing techniques. When interviewing victims, it is important to use non-suggestive interviewing techniques. This means avoiding leading questions and asking questions in a neutral way.
By understanding the role of suggestibility in crime victimization, we can take steps to reduce the risk of false memories and improve the accuracy of victim testimony.
To help reduce suggestibility, SCARS recommends:
- Avoid amateur anti-scam groups of all types. Their lack of knowledge and reliance on saviors can lead scam victims astray and prevent their healthy recovery.
- Seek professional trauma counseling after a scam. Professional trauma counselors or therapists can help victims overcome many of the symptoms of trauma and learn to manage it properly and work on addressing their cognitive issues and suggestibility. To find counseling resources visit counseling.AgainstScams.org
- Join a professionally managed and facilitated scam victim support & recovery program, such as is provided by SCARS for free. Make sure they are completely private and confidential, and more importantly safe. To learn about the SCARS Support program visit support.AgainstScams.org
Mindfulness To Reduce Suggestibility
Mindfulness practices can help reduce suggestibility by cultivating greater self-awareness, promoting critical thinking, and enhancing cognitive flexibility.
Here are several ways in which mindfulness can contribute to reducing suggestibility:
- Increased Self-Awareness: Mindfulness involves paying non-judgmental attention to the present moment, including one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By developing a greater awareness of one’s internal experiences, individuals can better recognize their own biases, thought patterns, and emotional states. This self-awareness enables them to evaluate suggestions more objectively and discern whether they align with their values and beliefs.
- Emotional Regulation: Mindfulness practices promote emotional regulation by allowing individuals to observe their emotions without immediately reacting to them. This ability to observe emotions from a more detached perspective can prevent intense emotional states from overpowering rational thinking and decision-making processes. By managing emotional arousal, individuals are less likely to be swayed by emotional appeals or manipulative tactics employed by scammers.
- Enhanced Cognitive Flexibility: Mindfulness exercises, such as focused attention or open monitoring meditation, can improve cognitive flexibility—the ability to consider multiple perspectives and think creatively. This flexibility helps individuals approach situations with a more open mind and consider alternative explanations or possibilities. They are less likely to latch onto suggestions without considering other information or viewpoints, thus reducing their susceptibility to manipulation.
- Reduction in Automatic Responding: Suggestibility often arises from automatic and reflexive responses without conscious evaluation. Mindfulness practices help individuals become more attuned to their automatic reactions and develop the capacity to pause before responding. By cultivating this pause, individuals can interrupt impulsive behavior and engage in deliberate and thoughtful decision-making rather than simply following suggestions without critical analysis.
- Strengthened Discernment and Skepticism: Mindfulness encourages individuals to adopt an attitude of curiosity, inquiry, and non-attachment to thoughts and beliefs. This mindset can foster skepticism and critical thinking, empowering individuals to question the validity of suggestions and evaluate them more carefully. With a discerning mindset, individuals are better equipped to spot inconsistencies, logical fallacies, or deceptive tactics used by scammers.
- Reduction in Cognitive Biases: Mindfulness can help individuals recognize and overcome cognitive biases, which can contribute to suggestibility. By observing their thoughts and cognitive processes without judgment, individuals can identify biases like confirmation bias, availability bias, or the authority bias. This awareness allows them to challenge these biases and approach information and suggestions with greater objectivity.
It’s worth noting that while mindfulness practices can enhance self-awareness and critical thinking, they are not foolproof safeguards against scams. Remaining vigilant, staying informed about common scam tactics, and maintaining healthy skepticism is important regardless of one’s mindfulness practice.