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Gullibility is an interesting topic. Professor Stephen Greenspan's Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It (2009) explores many sides to the subject. Donald S. Connery, author and former foreign correspondent for Time and Life magazines says in the books' foreword that gullibility

can do us terrible harm: losing our life savings to a swindler . . . We are all at daily risk . . . (p. xiii)

Every profession, every set of human interaction, is replete with examples of people too willing to exploit the gullibility of others, and other people, even if aware of the value of exercising critical judgment, all too ready and even eager to be exploited. (p. xiv)

Greenspan goes into causes of gullibility, forms of it, developmental factors, gullibility in science, academia and in religion, military deception, gullibility of lawyers, scholars and juries, vacation purchases, in sexual relationships, exploitation of people with disabilities, believing rumours, and asks, "Should gullible people be blamed for being gullible?" and "Is gullibility a personality trait?".

He offers advice on how to get less gullible (chap. 10). Among the means are disengagement tactics, cultivated sceptisism, and getting older and wiser. Some Greenspan quotes:

We all know people whose extreme gullibility has gotten them into serious difficulty. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 2

Gullibility can be defined as an unusual tendency toward being duped or taken advantage of. Obviously, all of us can be duped on occasion. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 2

The term gullibility really refers to a pattern of being duped, which repeats itself in different settings, even in the face of warning signs. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 2

Credulity . . . refers to a tendency to believe things that on their face are ridiculous or that lack adequate supporting evidence. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 3

Gullible outcomes typically come about through the exploitation of a victim's credulity. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 3

Trust is a construct that is obviously related to gullibility. Gullibility always involves an act of trusting someone or some assertion, when skepticism or inaction might have been more appropriate. . . . Trust is a very positive and healthy trait to possess, and the challenge is . . . to be able to recognize those (hopefully infrequent) occasions when wariness is appropriate and even necessary for one’s wellbeing. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 3

Two peeks beneath the surfaces

The lack of empirical validity for the effectiveness of Christian Science healing can be found in a number of studies. For example, it has been found that the death rate from cancer of church members is twice that for the general population, that the life expectancy of church members is significantly lower than for non-church members, and that nearly 20% of deaths of church members are preventable. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 50

Scary news obviously sells. An example are the many stories in newspapers and on TV every year warning readers to check their children's Halloween candy for razor blades and poisoning. It turns out that there have been only two documented cases of child deaths in the United States associated with Halloween candy, and in both cases the candy was doctored by the child's parents. In one case the child was murdered with rat poison for insurance money, whereas in the second case the child died from heroin ingested accidentally and the parents then put heroin in the candy to divert suspicion from themselves. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 81

Two more

In 1692,

20 residents of Salem, Massachusetts, were condemned to death on the basis of testimony by a group of children, aged 5 to 12 years . . . The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a place where fear of witches was rampant and the vicar's wife, a woman who was obsessed with sorcery and witchcraft, had influenced these girls. The girls began to accuse some of the townspeople of being witches and told fantastic stories about various feats of magic. Children of accused parents were brought in and interrogated for hours, by interrogators who believed their parents were guilty and who asked many leading questions. Eventually, some of these children began to confirm that the accused parent was, indeed, a witch. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 89-90

[Some] consider the McMartin preschool trial in southern California, along with a number of other such cases, to be the modern equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials. Certainly [these trials helped awareness of the] suggestibility of child witnesses is a huge problem and that great care must be taken in interrogating children if their testimony is to be believed. . . .

All of the parents and children in the school were sent for evaluation to a private clinic, Children's Institute International (CII), which was owned by Dee McFarlane, a friend of the district attorney. McFarlane and her staff told the parents that every child at the school had been sexually molested. Tales of satanic ritual practices such as the drinking of blood began to circulate, and all of the preschools in Manhattan Beach were forced to close when it was asserted that children had been swapped between the various schools for the purpose of molesting them. . . . The interrogation of the children by the therapists at CII is now held up as a case study of how not to interrogate child witnesses or possible victims of crimes. - Stephen Greenspan 2006, 90

Summing up

Gullibility and credulity are intertwined. Credulity is a state of willingness to believe in one or many people or things in the absence of reasonable proof or knowledge. A credulous person will believe this statement without good evidence . . .


A human who lives fully is hardly prepared to tackle gullibility at any time.

A life well spent could in part stem from happily resolved gullibility. Story-telling often offers help with that.

Credulity's happiness may be dangerous.

Fame is proof that people are gullible. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gullibility is part of so many lives, although its consequences vary.

Happy the man who does not fall for tricks of gullibility.

If elephants didn't exist, you couldn't invent one. They belong to a small group of living things so unlikely they challenge credulity and common sense. - Lyall Watson

If you spend all your time worrying about gullibility, living may not be much fun any more.

Credulity does not die; it rather retires a little from sight and later comes to the fore again. It is easy to be fooled.

No one can confidently say that he'll not be gulled tomorrow. [With Euripides]

People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels. - Charles Fort

There's a gullible side to the American people. They can be easily misled. - Michael Moore

We must not demean life by wronging the gullible around.

When we look over the fields we are not saddened because of withered gullibility, for in autumn frosts one's long-range health weighs more.

You can count on gullibility for much mischief.

Young gullibility! You are not dead when it is no longer possible to live proudly.

Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope. - Aristotle


Gullibility and credulity quotations, Stephen Greenspan quotes, duping, Literature  

Greenspan, Stephen. Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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