A Rough Past Increases Gullibility (and nonconformity pays)

Traumatic life events may teach people to distrust their own actions, judgements, and decisions — which one study shows, makes them more gullible and open to manipulation.

The study in question was looking at interrogation scenarios (presumably if you live in the ghetto you’ve probably seen more caps getting popped in more asses than someone from a different socioeconomic stratum) but they found applicability to other walks of life too.

I think there’s at least a second mechanism at work here, too. Surving abusive situations requires being incredibly attune to the abusers.

One of the shadiest people I’ve ever known once pointed out that in their experience, people who’ve been subject to abuse develop a proverbial sixth sense in order to detect impending violence and avoid it. (They had such a history and exploited the resulting skillset for their work.)

Without proper management, I suspect the brain sets up a sub-system along the lines of “take the output from this sense, extract what the other person wants, and agree with them” as a result of early conditioning that doing otherwise provokes pain.

Noncoformism pays: not dressing like everyone else and generally being nonconformist means people see you (in general) as higher status, if you’re in a situation where there’s uncertainty about your real, objective status.

The logic is that someone who “has the guts to do what they’re doing” is probably smarter or more successful and doesn’t have to give a shit. Note that Glenn Greenwald’s found the exception to this rule: left-wing political activism. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2013/11/25/the-red-sneaker-effect/


“People who have suffered life’s hard knocks while growing up tend to be more gullible than those who have been more sheltered, startling new findings from the University of Leicester reveal.

A six-month study in the University’s School of Psychology found that rather than ‘toughening up’ individuals, adverse experiences in childhood and adolescence meant that these people were vulnerable to being mislead.

The research analysing results from 60 participants suggest that such people could, for example, be more open to suggestion in police interrogations or to be influenced by the media or advertising campaigns.

The study found that while some people may indeed become more ‘hard-nosed’ through adversity, the majority become less trusting of their own judgement.[…]

‘Adverse life experiences’ examined included major personal illnesses/injuries, miscarriage (from the male and female perspective), difficulties at work (being fired/laid off), bullying at school, being a victim of crime (robbery, sexual violence), parental divorce, death of family member and others.

70% of the variation across people in suggestibility can be explained by the different levels of negative life events that they have experienced, the study found.

“We also found that the way people cope with adversity had an impact on their psychological profile,” said Kim.

“The majority of people may learn through repeated exposure to adversity to distrust their own judgment; a person might believe something to be true, but when they, for example, read something in a newspaper that contradicts their opinion, or they talk to someone with a different view-point, that individual is more likely to take on that other person’s view.

“This is because the person may have learned to distrust their actions, judgements and decisions due to the fact that the majority of the time their actions have been perceived to invite negative consequences.

“Another example is in relationships. Women, as well as men, can become “brainwashed”, and end up changing in their personality, their views and beliefs and in some extreme cases, they may even take on their views and ideas of the world and come to feel incompetent (in their partner’s eyes).”

Kim added that there is already evidence to suggest that there is a relationship between intensity/frequency of negative life impacts and degree of vulnerability. Experience of adversity may have a knock-on effect on a person’s mindset- they may come to believe that “they are no good”, or “nothing they do is ever good enough”.

In contrast, the findings also suggest that early positive life events may have a protective influence over the effects of subsequent adversity: “If positive life events predate the negative life events then individuals may be more resilient in terms of, not being so badly affected, psychologically, by the subsequent adverse events. However, issues may arise if the reverse is the case; if the adverse life events precede the positive, those individuals may become, as a result, more susceptible to suggestion and misleading information. Nevertheless, future research will still have to examine this. The order of life events experienced, however, is seemingly important.” […]

The original application of this research was the police interrogation setting, the implications being that people who’ve experienced a high number of life adversities may be more prone to falsely confessing due to being highly suggestible, possibly resulting in a greater chance of being wrongly convicted.

“However, the notion of suggestibility falls far beyond that of forensic psychology. People may find they are more easily influenced by the media, by TV adverts and so may make life choices as a result that they otherwise would not”

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