Principles of social psychology-Whats behind social engineering
Abstract from Jonathan J. RUSCH, Dept. of Justice, INET 1999 Conference by email@example.com=fastlanwan Reprint permission granted.
1. Alternative routes to persuasion
In any situation where one person seeks to persuade another to do something, social psychology has identified two alternative routes that the persuader can employ. A central route to persuasion marshals systemic and logical arguments to stimulate a favorable response, prompting the listener or reader to think deeply and reach agreement. A peripheral route to persuasion, in contrast, relies on peripheral cues and mental shortcuts to bypass logical argument and counterargument and seek to trigger acceptance without thinking deeply about the matter. As every scheme to defraud necessarily involves the offering of goods or services in ways that misrepresent their objective qualities and features, the principals in the scheme can never afford to use a direct route to persuasion, and therefore invariably fall back on methods using peripheral routes to persuasion.
One way in which a criminal can make prospective victims more susceptible to peripheral routes to persuasion is by making some statement at the outset of their interaction that triggers strong emotions, such as excitement or fear. In other types of fraud that involve strong personal interaction, such as telemarketing fraud, criminals construct their schemes to ensure that at or near the beginning of their interaction with a prospective victim, they will make some statements or actions, such as the promise of a substantial prize worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, that will cause the prospective victim to become immediately excited. These surges of strong emotion, like other forms of distraction, serve to interfere with the victim's ability to call on his or her capacity for logical thinking, such as his capacity for counterargument. This aids the criminal in making false representations that exploit a peripheral route to persuasion.
2. Attitudes and beliefs
Another dimension of the social psychology of fraud involves the differences between the victim's attitudes and beliefs about the person soliciting his money over the Internet and the criminal's attitudes and beliefs about his intended or actual victims. In a typical commercial transaction where there is no question about the quality of the goods or services for sale, buyer and seller may begin with different levels of conviction about the appropriate price for that good or service, but each has a general expectation that both he and the other party will end up with something of genuine value that meets their realistic expectations.
In contrast, in a fraudulent transaction only the victim is likely to believe that both he and the criminal of the good or service share that same expectation. It may be that before people can become victims of a fraud, they must first succumb to the temptation -- called the false consensus effect -- that others share their feelings and ideas. In fact, those who commit fraud often adopt or devise ways of referring to their victims in denigrating or demeaning terms. In this decade, for example, law enforcement authorities have found that participants in fraudulent telemarketing businesses typically refer to a victim as a "mooch" -- a variant of "moocher," a person who demands something for nothing. Use of such terms undoubtedly eases the task of presenting their victims with representations that are false or deceptive, and ultimately choosing not to deliver what they promised or some item vastly lower in value than the victims had expected. Participants in fraudulent schemes may also devise characterizations of their own actions that minimize the harm they cause to their victims or that foster a more positive self-image of their actions. At a court hearing relating to the indictment of several telemarketers for their scheme to defraud consumers, particularly older people, one telemarketer stated in his defense, "We targeted to people who were homebound. It was kind of like entertainment for the homebound."
Finally, social psychology experiments have shown that for some people who tend not to scrutinize persuasive messages closely, their post message attitudes were less dependent on scrutinizing the message when they perceived the source to be more honest. Thus, some fraud victims may tend to rely primarily on their belief or impression that the person with whom they dealt was honest, and to give little thought to the message's substance.
3. Persuasion and influence techniques
A substantial body of literature in social psychology demonstrates that there are at least six factors relying on peripheral routes to persuasion that are highly likely to persuade or influence others:
A. Authority. People are highly likely, in the right situation, to be highly responsive to assertions of authority, even when the person who purports to be in a position of authority is not physically present.
B. Scarcity. People are also highly responsive to indications that a particular item they may want is in short supply or available for only a limited period.
C. Liking and similarity. It is a truly human tendency to like people who are like us. Our identification of a person as having characteristics identical or similar to our own -- places of birth, or tastes in sports, music, art, or other personal interests, to name a few -- provides a strong incentive for us to adopt a mental shortcut, in dealing with that person, to regard him or her more favorably merely because of that similarity.
D. Reciprocation. A well-recognized rule of social interaction requires that if someone gives us (or promises to give us) something, we feel a strong inclination to reciprocate by providing something in return. Even if the favor that someone offers was not requested by the other person, the person offered the favor may feel a strong obligation to respect the rule of reciprocation by agreeing to the favor that the original criminal asks in return -- even if that favor is significantly costlier than the original favor.
E. Commitment and consistency. Society also places great store by consistency in a person's behavior. If we promise to do something, and fail to carry out that promise, we are virtually certain to be considered untrustworthy or undesirable. We therefore are more likely to take considerable pains to act in ways that are consistent with actions that we have taken before, even if, in the fullness of time, we later look back and recognize that some consistencies are indeed foolish.
F. Social proof. In many social situations, one of the mental shortcuts on which we rely, in determining what course of action is most appropriate, is to look to see what other people in the vicinity are doing or saying. This phenomenon, known as social proof, can prompt us to take actions that may be against our self-interest without taking the time to consider them more deeply. Cults from the Jonestown Temple to Heaven's Gate, for example, provide cogent evidence of how strong the effects of that phenomenon can be in the right circumstances.
Principles Of Social Psychology
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