PSYC 418
Suckers and Scammers Fall 2024
Division III

Class Details

Virtually all of us are familiar with at least one account of a truly impressive scam – an event, device, or scheme that attracts attention, trust, and money, and then turns out to be a fake, sometimes with devastating consequences for everyone. What are the psychological processes and mechanisms employed by the scammers, as well as those who fall for such schemes? In this course we will consider several books and films that depict well-publicized recent examples (for instance, Bad Blood, The Rachel Divide, and The Talented Mr. Madoff). We’ll use research from scientific journals to understand the psychology of both the scammer and those who fell for their schemes. We’ll consider, among other things, the developmental origins of deception, what motivates people to pull one over on others, the role of identity maintenance, how we decide who to trust, and what it takes to convince oneself of something implausible. We’ll use psychological research from all of the subdisciplines of psychology to find out what these cases might have in common, and also look at studies that illuminate unique features of each situation. Most class meetings will be student-led discussions. You will write three or four 5-7-page papers. The larger goals include: learning how to use scientific data to answer a wide range of questions about everyday life; how to engage in fruitful evidence-based argument; and how to write to think, and to persuade.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 1696
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: weekly readings, leading two class discussions, and writing three 5-7 page papers
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: senior Psychology majors
Distributions: Division III

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