How Con Artists Manipulate Your Emotions in Genius (and Evil) Ways

Psychologist and writer Maria Konnikova on how to out-smart a con artist.

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The Ben Franklin effect is an oddly simple phenomenon. It was first discussed, as one could guess, by the man himself in his autobiographical writings. Benjamin Franklin used it on legislators that he was at odds with, to make them be more kind to him.

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Why Our Hearts and Minds Are Easy Targets for Con Artists, Holy Men and Cult Leaders

Psychologist and writer Maria Konnikova looks at the mechanisms of human nature that have allowed con artists, religious authorities, and cult leaders to prevail for thousands of years.

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What is the difference between a cult and a religion? Perhaps not much. There are a lot of questions in this world, and people start asking at a young age. When a baby with a rattle bangs it on the table, it learns that the rattle makes noise. The baby is fascinated by cause and effect. That’s why they like to pull your hair and feel the tension in the strands. It’s why they are always throwing things from their high chairs.

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A Con Artist Sold the Eiffel Tower Twice — by Listening, Not Selling

We tend to think con artists are smooth talkers and persuasive sellers, but listening is their most important quality, says Maria Konnikova, who has written a new book on con artistry.

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We tend to think con artists are smooth talkers and persuasive sellers, but listening is their most essential quality, says Maria Konnikova, who has written a new book on con artistry. Here she discusses the case of Victor Lustig, a Frenchman who sold the Eiffel Tower twice for scrap metal to two different buyers. Too embarrassed at being taken in, the buyers never reported Lustig.

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What Psychological Traits Does the Con Artist Look for in Victims?

The con artist is more of a psychologist than a thief, explains Maria Konnikova. If fact, con artists will never actually steal anything from you; they'll convince you to hand it over freely.

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The history of the term "con artist" illuminates some essential traits of this lamentable profession. Maria Konnikova explains that the first con artist was a Manhattan watch thief who would prey on the goodwill of his victims, asking to borrow their watch until the following day. Of course the watch was never returned and the confidence invested by the victim in the thief was also lost. Indeed the con artist is more of a psychologist than a thief. Con artists will never steal anything from you, says Konnikova, they'll convince you to hand it over freely.