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The Confidence Game

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The Confidence Game

Why We Fall for It… Every Time


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Think you’re too smart to fall for a scam? Given the right set-up, even the sharpest minds get fooled. 

Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


In this artfully written study of swindles, psychologist Maria Konnikova, relying on decades of research studies and news accounts, delves into the complex psychology of scams. She reports that under the right circumstances, even the sharpest minds can fall for a con artist’s trick. Konnikova is a facile writer who tells engrossing stories, though at times her instructive tales feel sadly repetitive: con artist, victim and then dismay. With these case histories, the author offers a unique look at an age-old question: Why do people keep falling for swindlers?


“The Con”

The confidence scam remains an enduring feature of human civilization, which seems to manufacture suckers at the proverbial rate of one a minute. Whether the con is a three-card Monte game on a New York sidewalk, a psychic’s money-grubbing ruse or Bernie Madoff’s billion-dollar investment swindle, victims never wise up. Belief is all but hardwired into the human brain. For most of your life, trust is the correct response to many circumstances. Someone fed and protected you as an infant. As an adult, most of the people you meet have no interest in doing you harm. Like most people, you trust your fellow citizens and value cooperation. This is generally useful, until you run up against a fortune-teller or a swindler like Madoff.

People need to hear and believe stories, to expect justice, and – when things aren’t going well – to anticipate that a change for the better is just around the corner. People need stories that bring reassuring order to a chaotic, confusing universe. This may help explain the appeal of religion. Scammers intuitively understand the power of stories, the persistence of faith and the vulnerability...

About the Author

Maria Konnikova, also the author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, holds a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University.

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