One slow Sunday afternoon, a man comes out of
the restroom with a pearl necklace in his hand.
"Found it on the bathroom floor" he says…
When he was working in a gas station in high school, neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak was conned by the "pigeon drop scam." He explains how our brain chemistry is fooled by a good con artist:
Why did this con work? Let’s do some neuroscience. While the primary motivator from my perspective was greed, the pigeon drop cleverly engages our oxytocin system… Social interactions engage a powerful brain circuit that releases the neurochemical oxytocin when we are trusted and induces a desire to reciprocate the trust we have been shown–even with strangers.
The key to a con is not that you trust the conman, but that he shows he trusts you. Conmen ply their trade by appearing fragile or needing help, by seeming vulnerable. Because of oxytocin and its effect on other parts of the brain, we feel good when we help others – this is the basis for attachment to family and friends and cooperation with strangers. "I need your help" is a potent stimulus for action.
Read more: How to Run a Con – Why our brains make us vulnerable to con men, The Moral Molecule, Neuroscience and economic behavior Psychology Today>>