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- Psychology's Tangled Web: Deceptive Methods May Backfire on Behavioral Researchers
- The Psychology of Deceptive Persuasion and Consumer Self-Protection, 1st Edition
- The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America | KSA | Souq
Barnum artfully exploited the American yen for deception, and even Mark Twain championed it, arguing that lying was virtuous insofar as it provided the glue for all interpersonal intercourse. But deception was not used solely to delight, and many fell prey to the schemes of con men and the wiles of spirit mediums. As a result, a number of experimental psychologists set themselves the task of identifying and eliminating the illusions engendered by modern, commercial life. By the s, however, many of these same psychologists had come to depend on deliberate misdirection and deceitful stimuli to support their own experiments.
The Science of Deception explores this paradox, weaving together the story of deception in American commercial culture with its growing use in the discipline of psychology. Michael Pettit reveals how deception came to be something that psychologists not only studied but also employed to establish their authority. They developed a host of tools—the lie detector, psychotherapy, an array of personality tests, and more—for making deception more transparent in the courts and elsewhere. With its broad research and engaging tales of treachery, The Science of Deception will appeal to scholars and general readers alike.
Introduction Chapter 1. History: American History History of Technology. Language and Linguistics: Language and Law. You may purchase this title at these fine bookstores. Outside the USA, see our international sales information. University of Chicago Press: E. About Contact News Giving to the Press. The Science of Stress Gregory L. The Emotions of Protest James M. Islands of Privacy Christena E. Table of Contents. Raladam Co. In this case, the FTC sought to prevent the deceptive advertising claims made about the weight-loss remedy Marmola. The Supreme Court determined that, unless the FTC could prove that the companys fallacious claims about the products effectiveness actually harmed the trade of any rivals, the commission had overstepped its authority.
As the majority in the Supreme Court argued, these police powers were originally designed for the protection of open commerce, not consumers. Despite the impediment of decisions like Raladam, consumer rights advocates continued to lobby for a more robust version of the FTC, which came into being in with the Wheeler-Lea Act. I argue that the rise of market culture was the most important element in explaining the heightened captivation with deception, but its importance was never exclusive. Concerns about deception also intersected with questions about religious belief, pedagogical strategy, and the design of scientific experiments.
Indeed, one of the most durable outcomes of this captivation with deception was the institutionalization of the scientific discipline of psychology as a particularly prominent feature on the American. At the heart of this book, then, are two interrelated questions. How did psychology take root in a culture fascinated by robber barons and confidence men, national brands and their counterfeit, yellow journalism and muckraking exposs? How did the growing presence of psychology on the American cultural landscape transform these concerns about deception? Deception and the Americanization of Psychology A broader captivation with deceitful persons and deceptive things helped frame the integration of scientific psychology into American culture and shaped the particular contours of the science in that country.
The concept of indigenization has been used to emphasize how specific aspects of an imported intellectual tradition are privileged or transformed because of their resonances with local conditions. Used to discuss the exportation of mid-twentieth-century American psychology, it is also a fruitful analytic for understanding how scientific psychology was first received in the United States. American psychology represented a hybrid of German experimental practice, a French tradition of clinical observation, and British mental measurement. The studies of illusions, testimony, and psychotherapy were far from uniquely American developments, but each topic acquired new cultural meanings in the United States.
Late nineteenth-century advocates of the new psychology crafted an intellectual and cultural space in large part through the study of how humans were deceivable and why they deceived. Such concerns flowed through and gave some unity to their disparate interests in psychophysics, child development, and evolutionary narratives of human difference. Furthermore, the pursuit of deception as an object of investigation led to the formation of laboratory spaces and experimental practices, policing the boundaries of the disciplines expertise, the writing of popular science, and the search for legal and industrial patronage.
Talk about deception in terms of affect and cognition was not limited to the discipline of. While the threat posed by deceivable and deceitful persons provided one of the major tropes around which psychologists initially built the public image of their discipline, this changed by the early twentieth century.
Rather than admonishing its existence, they came to argue that deception was a necessary and normal aspect of human nature, one that could be best managed through their own diagnostic instruments and therapeutic techniques. Psychologists offered an array of tools for navigating the deceptive landscape of modern life. These ranged from self-help manuals for overcoming perceptual limitations, published exposs of commercial charlatans, scales for detecting the likelihood of trademark infringement, machines to detect liars, and therapeutic techniques to reveal selfdeceptions.
These interventions did not eliminate deception from the public sphere or private life but were instead predicated on the acceptance of its existence. One of the central tenets of much twentieth-century psychology, from psychoanalysis to cognitive dissonance research to behavioral economics, was that humans deceived themselves as to their own true motivations.
Part of the reason that psychologists normalized deception was that it had become an indispensable part of their own investigative enterprise. Fearing both resistant and overly complicit subjects whose behavior would threaten the investigations validity, psychologists turned to deception to camouflage their intentions from participants. This dual focus on the psychological sciences and the role played by consumer culture requires understanding the intertwined histories of the deceitful self and the deceivable self. In introducing these two terms, I do not mean to imply the existence of these selves as specific kinds of people.
I use the notion of the self to mean widely ascribed and normative characteristics of personhood found in a given historical epoch and how individuals grow into and come to inhabit such discursive formations. I use the notion of the deceivable self to underscore a view of the individual that emphasizes the unavoidability of humanitys error-prone, suggestible, and fallible nature. By and large, the literature on the history of forensics anthropometry, fingerprints, lie detectors has given greater attention to the former, while historians of visual culture have grappled with the latter.
Seen from this perspective, the production and policing of deception served as an important impetus for the emergence of what has been called the psychological society. Historian Roger Smith describes the significant sense in which everyone in the twentieth century learned to be a psychologist; everyone became her or his own psychologist, able and willing to describe life in psychological terms. The twentieth century was a psychological age, and in this it differed from earlier ages. When accounting for this transformation, historians have tended to emphasize the importance of wartime conditions.
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During the First World War, psychologists administered intelligence tests to a large number of the army recruits in a failed attempt to sort the militarys personnel. This experience of mass testing exposed a large number of people to the methods of psychology and the postwar debates over the tests insights into the mental stock of the American populace led to greater public attention being granted to the new science.
There was considerable demand for psychologically informed experts who would assist with mental rehabilitation to veterans and this led to new forms of government patronage for training, rapidly expanding the discipline into a mass, helping profession. The Staging of Uncertainty In the years before academic psychologists began to speak about deception, no individual more artfully exploited the American captivation with fraud than the celebrated showman P.
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In important ways, he crafted the cultural scripts with which psychologists had to contend. Often reluctantly, psychologists did acknowledge that in certain respects they existed as the showmans heirs. An integral element of the success of the Heth exhibit was Barnums artful manipulation of the uncertainty surrounding her authenticity. He pursued an anonymous promotional campaign that in turn raised doubts about her legitimacy and then proclaimed her genuineness.
The campaign called upon ordinary Americans to pay the viewing fee so that each individual could assess Heths true nature. Barnums marketing strategy hinged on societal norms that placed relatively little value on the final authority of experts. Although historians have challenged the reality of participatory democracy, it was in ascendancy as a political ideal during Barnums early career. For much of the nineteenth century, the more recent distinction between high and popular culture did not exist.
Attending a performance of Shakespeares plays was a spectacle for both the merchant and the laborer. Plebian attendees had distinct expectations about such performances and they passionately expressed their views. An actor who confounded them risked a barrage of vocal criticism or, in the case of New York Citys Astor Palace Riots , outright violence. Within its walls, he mingled curious natural objects with deceptive artifacts, known as humbugs, and asked the audience to distinguish one from the other.
Barnum made a fortune displaying such dubious objects as the Feejee Mermaid, in fact a monkeys torso carefully stitched onto the body of a fish, and the What Is It? As he did with Heth, Barnum would anonymously question the authenticity of these objects in his promotional materials and call upon the audience to decide their worth. Their involvement required that the audience serve as active participants rather than simply passive viewers. Historians have connected peoples engagement with this kind of activity to the market revolution that was transforming their daily lives.
In the face of these abstractions, the act of detecting one of Barnums humbugs resonated with the process of evaluating the reliability and worth of commercial goods. His exhibitions also made tangible the power and limits of the legal imperative of caveat emptor or buyer beware, a central tenet of contract law. In terms of entertainment, the answer includes the vaudeville stage, cinema, radio, and television, but what about the cultural work that these spectacles performed in training people to look for deception in the commercial realm?
In large part, psychologists took over the cultural conversation about deception at the end of the age of Barnum. The Work of Deceit in the Age of Mechanical Objectivity Those who crafted the sciences of deception did not simply contend with Barnums legacy, but also participated in conversations about the nature of science and its social place. Indeed, with their concerted attention to questions of credulity, belief, and the very capacity to observe, attempts at studying deception scientifically after represented an important moment in the much longer history of truth-telling. Standards for what constitutes truthfulness have a history and tracking changing understandings of deception is crucial to this project of historicizing objectivity.
During the mid-seventeenth century, at the height of the creation of new forms of scientific sociability and the foundation of new learned societies, being overly incredulous about the possibility that wonders could exist was seen as a marker of an insufficient worldliness. In an age of global voyaging, the cultivation of a trusting curiosity became an essential moral quality among. Europes most cosmopolitan natural philosophers. Respected learned publications were filled with reports of wondrous phenomena; objects were collected to challenge Aristotelian orthodoxy in order to formulate more rigorous scientific laws.
Starting in the s, attempts to rein in this natural history of the exceptional began together with the juvenilization of wonder as a sense of inquiry. To be credulous had become unscientific, merely simple and childlike. Modeled on the regularity of the industrial machine, objectivity required the restraint of ones judgments in the hope of making the body into yet another recording instrument. This exacting regime was more than a means of acquiring truth; for some, it served as the very foundation for reorganizing society.
The roots of the sciences of deception lay in the restaging of this decoupling of wonder and objectivity. During the ascent of mechanical objectivity, scientists frequently placed wonder into an evolutionary narrative in which it became closely linked to the feminine and the uncivilized races. When expressed within the confines of modernity, this once-esteemed public sentiment became understood as a marker of racial recapitulation.
For example, an anonymous editorial in the second volume of the journal Science set out to distinguish humbug, superstition, and science. It began by locating humbug in a surprising place: the British colonization of India. According to the author, because of Britains superior technological power, the ignorant natives exalt them [the British] as more than human beings so that the Indian turns from its own hazy gods to new and visible wonder-workers. Unlike the ancient gods, these new Western-inspired deities were at least material and visible in this world.
In light of the discourse of civilization that was so prominent in the late nineteenth century, such a rhetorical strategy was significant. For the audience reading Science, civilization was coded as refined, respectable, and white, though its gains remained insecure because of individual and racial degeneration. That they could be so easily duped challenged the notion of racial superiority that was central to their identity. While the author reassured the reader that the scientific charlatan is not dangerous and nearly always amusing, the connection with a colonized, unfree people sent a different message.
In this sense, the article was a call to expel humbug from western society in the name of the highly prized goals of rationality and civilization. Youmans connected proper scientific training to the preservation of democracy in the face of rampant commercial and political fraud. While avoiding claims that his own era was entirely unique in this regard, he insisted that at home and on the street, in the cars, at public assemblies, and in all the relations of life, we are beset and imposed upon by designing knaves of every shade.
We eat the falsified foods of the grocer, and wear the swindling textures of the dry-goods man. He equated the deceptions perpetrated by corrupt political machines and deceitful entrepreneurs with medieval despotism. Both hinged upon the submission of the mind to beliefs imposed on it by authority, and interpreted by authority, the effect of which was to make blind credence the universal mental habit. Less than ten years after the Civil War, he invoked the specter of a form of resurgent slavery that would ensnare all Americans regardless of race. For Youmans, the glory of modern science resided in its historical role in emancipating the mind from such habits: There is but one thing that can protect people against the thousand-fold insidious and plausible impostures to which they are continually and everywhere exposed, and that is a resolute mood of scepticism, and an intelligent habit of sifting evidence that shall become a daily and constant practice.
With deception coming to define the national character, Youmans argued that freedom itself required the cultivation of scientific skepticism as a means of combating the slavery of despotic psychological habits. The philosopherBernard Williams has traced the emergence of this imperative to the eighteenth-century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who built an influential philosophy around the hope of reclaiming a state of reciprocal transparency among humans, a condition he felt was lost with the acquisition of the decorum demanded by civilization.
Rousseaus ideal was the unmediated and full expression of his innermost feelings, opinions, and. Indeed, the charges of hypocrisy frequently leveled against Rousseau derived from his own exacting standard for truth. In his novels, he skewered the artifice of courtly manners, the arbitrariness of nobility by birthright, the hypocrisy of racial prejudice, and the financial corruption prevalent in the nations capital. Twain also believed in the necessity of deception; he argued that lying was virtuous insofar as it provided the glue for all interpersonal intercourse.
Twain held to an exacting standard for truth: nothing but a full and sincere expression of ones innermost thoughts counted as honesty and any deviation from ones true feelings constituted a lie. For Twain, dishonesty included remaining silent and not actively expressing ones feelings or opinions. He dismissed moralistic condemnations of minor spoken lies to accentuate the horror of large-scale shared lies of silent omission on the days most pressing social issues. When he wrote disparagingly about the decay in the art of lying, he referred to what he perceived as the increased use of deception for personal gain rather than the common good.
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These scientists labored to craft techniques and tools for making people both more accurate and sincere in their actions. The scientists performances, both in person and in print, in which they used their tools to assess a seemingly deceptive person or unmake a potentially fraudulent artifact, were critical in building the new disciplines public image. Such demonstrations allowed for the visible production of the boundaries between the credulous and the trustworthy. The study of deception also facilitated the forays of the psychologist as an expert in human fallibility into industrial organization and the legal system.
Their involvement in these areas became a particularly acute concern for psychologists as they attempted to gain a monopoly over talk about the mind from psychical researchers, spiritualists, Christian Scientists, and others. Rather it was carefully managed presence, disguised from those under observation through the scientists own deceits.
It was an epistemic ideal that helped resolve the tension between the demands of the laboratorys exactitude and the theatrics of public science. Merton himself trained as a stage conjuror in his youth heralded intellectual honesty as a central platform of the scientific ethos, psychologists increasingly saw their own brand of deception as operating in a symbiotic rather than antagonist relationship with scientific objectivity.
While psychologists condemned the fraudulent fabrication of data, other forms of deceit formed a core of how they constituted their discipline as an objective science. Nevertheless, this untruthfully acquired truth led to acrimonious disputes within the discipline and compromised how the science was presented in the public sphere.
Overview of the Book The first chapter explores the narratives written about confidence men during the age of emancipation that followed the Civil War. With their proliferation in numerous national contexts at various times, confidence games seem to resist classification in terms of a single historical epoch.
This eras expos and confessional literature centered on the relationship between the deceitful and deceivable self. The swindlers schemes posed a threat to individual liberty and independence in a society where such ideals were highly prized as markers of manliness. Whereas antebellum portrayals of the confidence man tended to hold that the mark was an unwary innocent, later exposs warned of the victims complicity.
In other words, deceivable persons became victims because, in actuality, they. Such an understanding was central to the novel and controversial ruling in People v. McCord , in which the New York Supreme Court decided that it would not prosecute swindlers whose only victims were likewise trying to defraud another person.
Furthermore, turn-of-the-century ethnographic studies of what they called the criminal underworld provided American journalists and sociologists with a new vocabulary for understanding the relationship among the individual, politics, and the marketplace. With the circulation of the concept of graft, the figure of the confidence man came to serve as a symbol for the period as a whole.
The second chapter charts the materialization of the deceivable self within the psychology laboratories that proliferated in American universities at the end of the nineteenth century. In the s a shared interest in experimentation, statistical analysis, and evolutionary narratives coalesced into a psychology of deception. This topic became so central to the new discipline that psychologist Edwin Boring called the s the decade of the illusion. Scripture, Carl Seashore, and George Stratton articulated a vision of the self governed by what William James called the law of economy.
According to this mental law, habits and beliefs alleviated the burden of having to constantly form conscious choices, but consigned the individual to the comfortable pathway of the most probable. The individual risked self-deception caused by an unjustified classification of sensations in a novel situation, a predicament made increasingly common in the new economy of consumer abundance.
Indeed, this chapter argues that those psychologists captivated by deception are best understood as both producers and consumers of the Gilded Ages visual and material culture. The numerous channels of exchange that flowed between the university and the burgeoning consumer culture helped in the formulation and sustenance of their scientific theories. The resulting psychology of deception, especially as espoused in masscirculation magazines, newspapers, and popular books, opened two pathways for transforming the observational habits of the consuming public. The psychologists mentioned above preached a gospel of self-reliance and self-control to overcome both the habituated perceptual errors bestowed upon the race through natural selection and the incorporating, socialistic tendencies believed to be at work in social organizations.
Another set of psychologists, among them Hugo Mnsterberg and Walter Dill Scott, argued that the proper solutions to the problem of deception were. The comparative success of these two competing visions is a recurring theme throughout the remaining chapters. Spiritualists, psychics, and other mental wonder-workers were the commercial actors who particularly troubled psychologists, and these scientists publicly insisted that the revelation of the true deceitful nature of such hucksters was a fairly straightforward affair.
Yet, chapter 3 investigates the complex negotiations that went into producing successful exposs and the tensions and conflicts that pervaded among supposedly likeminded debunkers. It considers the lessons that psychologists learned about the design of experiments and the arts of observation from their collaboration with stage magicians. Psychologists claimed that exposure of deceitful persons required deceit on their own part. These demonstrations led to a gendered understanding of deception as male psychologists demanded full transparency from their female subjects while priding themselves on their masculine guile in besting their opponents.
This embrace of deceitful insincerity as a means of achieving objective results led to acrimonious disputes among scientists and had a profound influence on the subsequent shape of the discipline. The intersection of psychology, consumption, and governance came to fruition in the legal fiction of the unwary purchaser prone to deception, the topic of chapter 4.
In most nineteenth-century jurisprudence, the ideal of individual self-reliance and responsibility was paramount.
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Cases of trademark infringement and deceptive advertising, however, consisted of a legal tradition that tended to limit personal responsibility and suspend the notion of caveat emptor in order to protect the interests of established businesses. At the heart of these legal decisions was an understanding of the consumer closely resembling the psychologists deceivable self. Although unevenly applied, the vision of the ordinary purchaser as an unwary and easily deceived consumer played a critical role in how federal judges regulated the economy.
Psychologists, especially those at Harvard and Columbia, sought to provide an experimental foundation for this legal assemblage of the consuming subject. Using an array of laboratory tests, psychologists attempted to construct a standardized, objective measure for the point at which the average consumer was likely to be deceived.
In the end, judges dismissed these experts. The legal, rather than the experimental, definition of the unwary purchaser became institutionalized in the regulatory apparatus of the American state, particularly with the creation of the Federal Trade Commission. The fifth chapter details the tentative institutionalization of two psychological tools for diagnosing deception within urban police work and the judicial system.
It juxtaposes the story of the technological wonder known as the lie detector with the reception of psychotherapy among American criminologists. The chapter initially details how William Healy introduced dynamic psychology into the study of delinquency as part of his work for the juvenile court in Chicago.
Healy argued for a view of the criminal as an individual who happened to commit crimes rather trying to identify fixed types. Despite this commitment, in he suggested that he had uncovered a particularly troublesome kind of delinquent, the pathological liar. The chapter traces the emergence of the lie detector out of the Harvard psychology laboratory, the Berkeley police department, and the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory at Northwestern University. By combining these two narratives, this chapter illuminates the intertwined history of psychotherapy and lie detection as distinct yet complementary technologies.
Both conceived of an honest body that betrayed the minds deceits. From the outset, people leveled charges that both techniques were a brand of fraudulent patent medicine foisted upon the consuming public. While people rejected many of the particulars of each technique, the debates about them helped promote a view of the normal self as governed by deceitfulness and self-deception. The final chapter analyzes the ironies at the heart of attempts to study deception scientifically.
Taking the Character Education Inquiry as its focal point, it investigates the use of experimentation to arrive at an explanation of deceptive behavior among schoolchildren.
Psychology's Tangled Web: Deceptive Methods May Backfire on Behavioral Researchers
Marked by a more general concern with the moral corruption unleashed by a consumer society, a number of religiously minded psychologists devised a series of situations simulating everyday life to isolate the causes of deceit. The resulting volume, Studies in Deceit, shifted the locus of behavior from the individual toward the situation. Eliciting authentic responses from their subjects by catching them unawares required that these psychologists themselves deceive their subjects as a central tenet of their methodology.
While their fellow psychologists largely rejected the interpretation of behavior offered by the members of the Character Education Inquiry, they praised the ingenuity in designing experiments. The critical insight of Studies in Deceit was clear: deception was not aberration but, rather, a normal attribute that manifested itself when the situation required it. One situation that especially required deception was the psychological experiment itself.
The historical mutations in the meanings attributed to deception re-. Barnums trickster games, carefully stage-managed to simultaneously stimulate and satiate concerns about commercial fraud, represented an initial response to the perceptual challenges of a society increasingly organized around anonymous commercial exchange. Although this artful deception remained an important resource until the centurys end, individuals sensed its inadequacy already by the s. The psychology of deception championed between the s and the s held that the unaided judgment of individuals could no longer manage the problem of fraudulent appearances.
Despite this consensus among psychologists, they differed over which approach to take. One set valorized the importance of individuality in the face of the collectivist and incorporating trends of commercial imperatives. They emphasized how the consumption of the popular science writings of leading researchers could provide individuals with the necessary tools to manage their sense perception and detect deception.
Another group held that certified expertise and technocratic solutions, inspired by laboratory research, could successfully root out the unwanted, deceptive aspects of the social. Both groups of psychologists struggled to fashion themselves as outside of the market and its corrosive influences while simultaneously seeking to use its mechanisms to publicize their approach to the mind. Psychologists offered their science as a means of more rationally navigating the vagaries of commercial life, as a means of learning how to separate the fraudulent from the authentic.
Such easy demarcations were always difficult to maintain and this form of public science largely failed in its stated aims. In the end, there never emerged a science of deception in the singular. Rather, a recurring preoccupation with deception structured the content and methods of psychology in the United States and the vision of selfhood it offered the American public. From the s onwards, psychologists increasingly understood deception as an unavoidable, perhaps even a necessary and beneficial element of everyday life. This conviction cut across psychotherapy, the physiological study of emotions, and the social psychological understanding of moral behavior.
The lie detector was predicated not on the search for a dishonest personality type, but on measuring the changing physiology of individuals as they momentarily deceived. With its carefully crafted experimental situations, Studies in Deceit made such an interpretation explicit. Not even the human sciences were outside the bounds of a world where the use of deception in the proper situation was deemed a necessity. At the same time as they outsmarted charlatans. The history of the scientific study of deception was ultimately that of normalizing what once seemed immoral and dangerous. The outcome of rendering deception psychological was a vision of the world where the purportedly passionless and aloof scientists responsibility was to explain expected deceit for its perpetual management rather than to eliminate it.
Johnstons attention soon upon entering his jewelry clearance store in late nineteenth-century Chicago. The tall man dressed in overalls, a dingy blouse, boots, and a cap had the appearance of a casual laborer, but Johnston recognized him as a former business acquaintance. The young gentlemen came from a reputable family, had graduated from Yale, and had previously held a managerial position of some responsibility with a dry goods firm.
For these reasons, Johnston, himself an itinerant merchant and self-described hustler, was taken aback that the man was passing himself off as a potato seller in the streets outside his shop. The young man explained that he was not, in truth, a street hawker, but rather a self-identified grafter. His targets were the women who maintained refined homes in the city and yet were still in search of a good bargain. He would travel door to door on the pretense of selling potatoes in order to gauge the households income. Upon ascertaining its wealth, the man would then produce a set of spectacles that had the appearance of gold but were in fact made of a near worthless metal alloy that would turn green with oxidization after a few days.
Claiming to have found them in the street and that they were of no use to him, he would offer to sell his new client the spectacles at below the market cost for gold.
The Psychology of Deceptive Persuasion and Consumer Self-Protection, 1st Edition
He would vary the asking price based on the womans outer appearance and their conversation about the sale of potatoes. By the time the woman detected the deception, the grafter had moved on to another neighborhood to ply his trade. The young man found that what he could make. Furthermore, he explained that his rich father had recently passed away and that the estate had become so entangled that its legal fees were greater than its worth. For his part, Johnston presented stories about grafters as moral tales revealing the potentials and pitfalls of modern commercial life.
For example, when recounting this particular story he noted that the young man would ultimately come to spend time in a penitentiary for his dishonesty. Yet a certain admiration for the swindlers great aptitude for moneymaking and self-transformation remained. Carefully noting the grafters deceptive outward appearance, Johnston appreciated his honed ability to successfully play as many roles as his circumstances demanded.
Morally dubious, the confidence man remained a self-reliant individual who successfully geared his trade and his own self-image toward consumer desires. Confidence men played this dual purpose because, as historian Scott Sandage has argued, in the nineteenth century Americans swapped liberty for ambition.
At the same time that Social Darwinian commentators were trumpeting the moral superiority of the wealthy, a wide range of American writers argued that the act of moneymaking itself was at best an amoral and often times an immoral endeavor. Multisited discussions of confidence men, swindles, and political graft served as opportunities for reconciling this seeming contradiction. During the Gilded Age, jurists, journalists, ethnographers, and confessing criminals all came to stress that beneath the surface of the markets seemingly innocent victims brewed the deceitful passions of self-interest.
Their writing brought to the fore how unethical commercial behavior toyed with ones affect and how emotion compromised ones individual freedom. Redmond noted in his expos The Frauds of America , what he termed the bunco-steerer is an almost infallible judge of human nature and rarely makes a mistake in selecting his subject. His account of the swindler reflected the decades fascination with hypnotic phenomena as made popular through the figure of Svengali.
Due to a powerful force of personality, Redmonds confidence man was capable of projecting his will onto his victim, who was amazed at the temporary paralysis of volition that afflicted him. He preyed on virtuous citizens and played upon their repressed and base natures, their hidden avarice and desire, drawing these emotions out into the public sphere.
Beyond immediate financial losses, this literature also portrayed the risk possessed by confidence games as enslaving otherwise good liberal men to their basest passions, resulting in a loss of selfcontrol, autonomy, and independence. The confidence man as a distinct social type first appeared in the midnineteenth century, as part of the American middle classs emphasis on the importance of sincerity and transparency in ones self-representation.
Techniques that enabled the honest to distinguish themselves from the disreputable permeated the periods cultural productions, from advice manuals to the arrangement of homes to womens fashion. The psychological model of the individual who informed this culture drew upon an understanding of the mind as a malleable, blank slate over which the confidence man exercised an external mastery.
This normative vision defined white manliness as self-reliant, strong, resolute, courageous, honest. Yet the confidence man, with his ability to bend the will of others, was a masculine type who undercut both the self-reliance and self-mastery at the heart of the manly ideal of liberal governance. Indeed, the domain of the market economy served as an important site for the expression of this code of gendered conduct.
Depictions of the confidence man are primarily found in a rather inglorious literary tradition of confession and expos. These works fell into a number of genres: short, ephemeral pamphlets aimed at visitors to urban centers, local businessmen, or farmers; longer exposs published by police officers, mail inspectors, or agricultural newspapers; amusing and colorful recollections produced by confidence men or detectives at the end of their.
Many of these works were published by small-time publishers, far from metropolitan centers and tailored to local concerns, problems, or crime sprees. The memoirs of confidence men, written frequently after a self-declared retirement from the trade, often served as a further opportunity at self-aggrandizement, a final cashing-in on their ingenious schemes by having the reader pay to learn from their experiences. These texts are rich catalogues of the everyday practices of grafting, but despite the availability of these sources, the confidence man remains a particularly difficult historical subject to pin down.
His identity is intertwined with a refined insincerity. By his very profession, the swindler makes an unreliable witness. He literally manufactures a fictitious past in order to pursue his latest commercial exploit. Thus, despite the wealth of first-hand accounts, the reader is never certain which events depicted in the text actually took place, were exaggerated, or simply fabricated in order to spin an impressive tale. For these reasons, this chapter focuses on how these texts represented experiences of the marketplace and how they worked to frame expectations about commercial life.
This chapter charts the ebb and flow of attempts to demarcate the confidence man as somehow different in kind from the denizens of what contemporaries called the upper world. The confidence man was a powerful cultural symbol precisely because he brought to the fore the seeming omnipresence of insincerity and deception in modern social life.
A wide array of Americans drew the moral equivalences between the confidence game and corporate enterprise and urban politics. In Chicago police detective Clifton Wooldridge identified the municipal graft as the worst form of despotism. Graft became an all-consuming and undeniable habit that dominated his behavior. Much like its effect on the individual soul, for Wooldridge the presence of the graft risked enslaving liberal democracy to the will of the criminal class.
For many of his contemporaries who shared this conviction, stock market speculation, salesmanship, and municipal graft did not seem so different from the criminal swindle. The Psychology of Caveat Emptor As a term to describe a particular kind of criminal, confidence man first appeared in the newspaper coverage of the trial of William Thompson. He would approach well-to-do passersby in Manhattan, inquiring whether they had confidence in their fellow citizens.
Upon receiving an affirmative response, the well-dressed Thompson offered an opportunity to invest in a potentially lucrative business venture. Before disclosing the details, however, he would first ask them to prove the sincerity of their statement by allowing him to borrow their pocket watch, promising to return it at the same spot the next day.
He would then disappear, absconding with the watch but leaving his victims with a tidyand, one might imagine, embarrassing lesson on the perils of trust. He became notorious because his crime exposed the weaknesses of established mechanisms for guaranteeing trust in metropolitan interactions and crowded, mobile spaces like trains and riverboats. An editorial in James Gordon Bennetts New York Herald questioned why Thompson lived on moldy bread in the citys Tombs while his brethren enjoyed the comforts of their mansions.
After all, both profited from the deceitful manipulation of other peoples beliefs for their personal gain. From the very beginning, then, this criminal figure provided a vocabulary for articulating moral concerns about finance as an economic activity. For some observers, the ups and downs of speculation seemed very much like a fictitious confidence game. These books typically portrayed marks as rural rubes new to the illegible landscapes of Americas major cities.
Contributors to this genre soon identified a number of other schemes that similarly manipulated a persons misplaced trust.
The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America | KSA | Souq
Bunco, gold brick, and green goods were the three earliest recognized forms of what were later called short-cons. Bunco derived from games of chance such as card tricks and the wheel of fortune. It required one swindler to run the game while an accomplice acted the part of another player. The victim would witness his competitors tremendous luck and significant winnings,. All along the game had been fixed and, once the mark started placing big bets, the wheels fortune would quickly turn against him.
Such was the case with the gold brick schemes that arose out the world of mining. The swindler would pass himself off as an itinerant prospector who had chanced upon a rich mineral find. This miner would offer to sell his gold below market rates, explaining his desperation for immediate cash and his lack of resources to bring the gold into town. Often the swindler would traffic in racialized notions of vulnerability and take on the appearance of a Hispanic or Native American operating on the margins of the economy.
The greedy mark would realize the potential profit and happily purchase the gold, whereupon the swindler would then swap a real gold bar for one made of near-valueless ore. When the victim came to sell his prize, he would discover his costly error. In its simplest form, the swindler offered to sell a set of counterfeit bills below their denominational value.
In a more complex version, the confidence man, claiming to possess a printing press that could produce bills indistinguishable from genuine ones, offered to partner with his mark. Inevitably the victim would discover that the bills in his possession were distinguishable, rendering them worthless. With state banks responsible for the issuing of notes in the absence of nationally standardized bills, the counterfeiting of currency was endemic in the early republic.
By mid-century, a national network of locally organized counterfeiting rings meant that as much as half the circulated specie was fraudulent. The Civil War forged a more cohesive nation-state, including the policing of one of its most visible symbols, a standardized national currency. Anticounterfeiting measures became a major locus of the federal governments police powers. Enforcing the Legal Tender Act led to the creation of the Secret Service, making the policing of fraud one of the earliest pillars of the formation of a more interventionist state.
Legal decisions encouraged people to assume the omnipresence of deceit brewing below appearances of respectability and honesty and to refrain from confiding in their fellow Americans. Courts did not require that individuals subordinate their own. Instead, they outlined a series of rules for navigating the deceitfulness thought to be inherent in market activity. The legal historian Morton Horwitz has argued that the demands of the market economy led to the legal distinction between facts and opinion in the jurisprudence addressing fraud.
Discussing the legal transformation of the early republic, Horwitz contended that since opinions, estimates, or interpretations were regarded as subjective and part of a legitimate distinction of individual talents and attitudesthe only forms of knowledge which the market system could justly protect against misrepresentation were thought to be bare statements of facts. Organ defined the deceit necessary to prove fraud as consisting of deliberate acts of commission rather than silent omissions of relevant information. In that case, a tobacco trader who had knowledge of the declaration of peace in the War of was not held responsible for revealing this fact to an ignorant vendor, even though these new circumstances greatly improved the value of the commodity.
Legally speaking, fraud required proof of intentionally conveying untrue statements as opposed to committing deceitful implicatures. The decision in Rockafellow v. Baker captures how courts at mid-century conceptualized the market, the nature of its participants, and their responsibility to one another.
Echoing the language that identified Thompsons crime, Woodward insisted There is no confidence between buyer and seller, unless a warranty be demanded and given. They deal at arms length. They use not each others eyes, but each his own. The seller is allowed to express freely his opinions of the value of his waresthe buyer is at equal liberty to answer that it is naught. If there be an intentional concealment or suppression by either party of material facts which he is bound to communicate to the other, there is fraud; but neither party is bound to communicate that which is equally accessible to both.
The state of the markets, the present and prospective value of a particular commodity, are among the things which are alike open to both buyer and seller, and neither is bound to instruct the other. In the absence of an outright promise otherwise, the assumption was that people will likely try to deceive one another. This was a tolerable condition. His decision posited the market as a transparent and local entity, wholly comprehensible through an individuals commonsense reflection upon the experiences of the senses.
The common-law rule of caveat emptor served a crucial ideologi cal function. In the words of economist Walton Hamilton, it was believed that caveat emptor sharpened wits, taught self-reliance, made a man an economic man out of the buyer. In sum, the eras jurisprudence laid greater stress upon an individuals responsibility for self-protection and minimized any legal duty to make sincere representations.
Unwary Marks and Knowledgeable Confederates During the Gilded Age, antebellum attempts to maintain a clear distinction between the deceitful swindler and his transparent victim became increasingly untenable. A persons own profiteering intentions led to financial danger: inside every victim brewed both a deceivable and a deceitful self. Authors of these treatises noted that in all three of the classic confidence tricks, the victim originally attempted to take advantage of the swindler.
In bunco the mark cannot believe his luck at coming across a faulty wheel that appears to consistently pay off; in gold brick he is pleased to pay less than the market value to a miner desperate for cash; and in green goods he is willing to swindle both his neighbors and the state with fraudulent currency. The active participation of the mark in the illegal scheme also insured that he was less likely to go to the authorities once he realized the swindle.
To press charges against the unknown swindler required that victims confess their own frequently illegal activities. As William Moreau, the so-called King of Fakirs, argued, even in the face of all the warnings that they have to beware of them they make themselves the accomplices of the vampires, and should be classed with them. The confidence man may be a vicious predator, but Moreau insisted that his victims collaborate in their fleecing.
As the anonymous author of the expos of urban crime, The Swindlers of America , warned the reader, all swindlers are. Furthermore, the late nineteenth-century literature dissolved certain of the distinctions so important to antebellum morality, such as the virtuous countryside versus the sinful city and the agrarian rube versus the urban sophisticate. Leeper consoled farmers: Remember, no class of people are exempt from the sharp brains and oily tongues of the swindler.
The honest, hard-working farmer, the business man, the legislator, and even the speculators and bankers, all fall victim to them. What legal historian Lawrence Friedman has aptly called crimes of mobility became more geographically diffuse, encroaching on a wider array of vocations. Like the sensational trial of William Thompson, the case that brought the issue to the fore, People v. McCord , unraveled in New York City. In this later case, the court made the question of the defrauded individuals knowledge and intentions paramount in deciding whether a criminal offense had even occurred.
The decision in McCord recognized that those defrauded in confidence schemes were often not unwary marks, but in fact the swindlers confederate. While dissolving this boundary, the courts decision still attempted to demarcate those involved in such swindles from the rest of society by denying the victims the legal protections typically available in such instances. The police had charged Henry McCord with falsely presenting himself as a detective carrying out an arrest warrant on behalf of a local justice.
Believing the false representation, Miller offered a watch and diamond ring to avoid arrest. He voluntarily gave away his property to ensure that McCord would violate his supposed legal responsibility. In other words, Miller was defrauded in an attempt to convince someone else to commit a crime. The court initially found McCord guilty of defrauding Miller, but the Court of Appeals overturned the decision. Because he had parted with his property for the sole purpose of inducing an officer to violate the law and his duties, Miller was guilty of committing a criminal offense. In the most widely discussed passage of the decision, the majority held that neither the law or public policy designs.
In other words, the court would not enforce the proper execution of a contract that was inherently unlawful. The design of the law is to protect those who, for some honest purpose are induced, upon false and fraudulent representations, to give credit or part with their property to another, and not to protect those who, for unworthy or illegal purposes, part with their goods. The law was reserved for the protection of persons with wholly honest purposes in mind. The legal community did not see McCord as advancing a new doctrine.
As recorded in a critical notice for the Albany Law Journal at the time of the decision, the case is one of those cases that pass unquestioned when they pass unnoticed. Despite this initial lack of fanfare, the decision soon became a controversial reference point for arbitrating cases involving confidence games.
The legal community had to decide whether the law ought to be used to ensure honesty among thieves or whether to make the distinction between the unwary and the deceitful. This interpretation of confidence schemes bound together knowledge, intent, and responsibility. The victims state of mind and intentions rather than those of the accused were what counted in determining whether a criminal offense had occurred. People v. Williams , a case cited as a precedent in the decision, actually underscored McCords novelty.
In the earlier case, the defendant had convinced one Van Guilder to sign over the deed to his property, claiming that a third party intended to sue him. Fearing losing his place of residence, Van Guilder signed the deed over to Williams to hide this asset during the supposed lawsuit. In actuality, the threat of a lawsuit was a ruse to obtain the title to the land. When the court heard the case, it found Williamss mark ineligible for protection under the law. The justices offered two different possibilities for why he had the right to a new trial. Since Van Guilder signed over his deed in order to avoid the collection of a fictitious debt, he was simply defrauded in the process of trying to defraud another and not entitled to legal remedy.
But, the judges made clear, this was not the primary reason given for dismissing the case. Such reasoning was appropriate to a civil suit, not a criminal trial. The more salient reason was the presumed mentality of the person defrauded. In principle,. The judges found it would be impossible to sustain this indictment without extending the statute to every false pretense, however absurd or irrational on the face of it.