Konnikova Warns: Don’t Fall for Con Games

Feb 19, 2018

by Olivia Collins ’18

Dr. Maria Konnikova, psychologist and New York Times best-selling author, inaugurated Florida Southern College’s 2018 Child of the Sun Distinguished Speaker Series on Feb. 13 by discussing the psychology of deception. 

Konnikova’s lecture, “Confidence Games: Why We Fall For It Every Time,” described the tactics used by con artists, with emphasis on their use of stories and narratives. Highlighting “The Great Imposter” Ferdinand Waldo Demara, a mastermind who successfully swindled people for over 30 years, Konnikova demonstrated how becoming emotionally invested in narratives could be dangerous.

Konnikova encouraged the audience filling Annie Pfieffer Chapel to be conscious when consuming information, warning that getting emotionally involved in a narrative could prevent us from seeing logical inconsistencies.

“Con artists tell us the stories that we want to hear and that we want to believe to be true, at the moment that we want to believe it,” she noted.

Near the end of the lecture, Konnikova expressed how easy deception has become for con artists in today’s society, especially with the rise of the Internet, because we give away more information about ourselves than we realize. She stated that though we don’t fall for every con artist, everyone has a con that they are susceptible to fall for.

“If you want to protect yourself against con artists,” she continued, “you have to give up part of what makes you human, because it’s natural to trust, to develop connections and to believe…and, to me, the trade off is one worth making.”

Konnikova is the author of “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time” (2016) and “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes” (2013), both of which were on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Her writings have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, and The New Republic, and she is a regular contributor to The New Yorker, where she writes about psychology and science.

This is FSC’s third annual Child of the Sun Distinguished Speaker Series, and is themed “A Matter of Facts: Navigating a Post-Truth Era.” In his welcome, Dr. Brad Hollingshead, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, defined a post-truth era as “a world in which there is an equaling out of truth and falsehood, and at its most extreme, a world in which rejecting fact-based arguments in favor of emotions becomes a good in itself.” The theme aims to examine how we can navigate and respond to such a world.