By | March 11, 2010 30 Comments

Why we fall for the con

All of us who have been conned by sociopaths ask ourselves, why did I fall for it? How could I have been so stupid to trust him (or her)?

Well, it turns out that there’s a chemical reason—oxytocin. According to an article on

Social interactions engage a powerful brain circuit that releases the neurochemical oxytocin when we are trusted and induces a desire to reciprocate the trust we have been shown—even with strangers.

Read How to run a con, on

Link submitted by a Lovefraud reader.

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GREAT LINK! Spot-on described the “B” I met a several years ago. My choices are so different now…thanks to LF and books and educating myself as much as possible. Im not exempt from being stung by one again — but no way will I ever have my being, my spirit and soul at risk because I make different choices with men and situations in general now. I look, listen, and learned trust has to be earned every step of the way…and I learned to say NO, THAT DOESNT WORK FOR ME. Slow and steady with myself and others helped me to learn and grow in all of my relationships.

Ox Drover

THANKS, DONNA! A great article! Some great links within that article too.

The author’s noticing that 2% of people don’t “trust back” is also interesting—the oxytocin connection (or lack there of).

Many people on LF have mentioned that the Ps they have known don’t trust anyone, which I think is quite true in my observation as well, and most of us have attributed that lack of to “they think everyone is like them” (untrustworthy) so they expect others to not be trustworthy because they know they aren’t.

How can someone who doesn’t trust, because they don’t have a properly functioning oxytocin system to not only trust others but to BE trustworthy?

Lots of “us” (former victims) have lots of ability to trust, yet we can become cynics because it seemed that everytime we did “trust” someone we got “screwed” over by them. Of course, we can and I think are learning to discriminate who we should trust and who we should not, therefore making ourselves safer from the “pigeon drop” or other simple or more complex cons, but never entirely safe unless we go live on a desert island alone. Connectedness to other humans is, after all, what life is about and what makes life pleasureable.

Thanks again a great link!


Extremely interesting! I like to know the ‘why’ of things happen, the science behind it. People often wonder how can anyone be so stupid? How can anyone fall for something so blatantly obvious , well here is the answer.

I found this portion of the article particularly interesting:

“My laboratory studies of college students have shown that two percent of them are “unconditional nonreciprocators.” That’s a mouthful! This means that when they are trusted they don’t return money to person who trusted them (these experiments are described in my post on neuroeconomics). What do we really call these people in my lab? Bastards. Yup, not folks that you would want to have a cup of coffee with. These people are deceptive, don’t stay in relationships long, and enjoy taking advantage of others. Psychologically, they resemble sociopaths. Bastards are dangerous because they have learned how to simulate trustworthiness. My research has demonstrated that they have highly dysregulated oxytocin systems.

Oxytocin’s effects are modulated by our large prefrontal cortex that houses the “executive” regions of the brain. Oxytocin is all emotion, while the prefrontal cortex is deliberative. I hope that by knowing that your oxytocin system can easily be turned on, you will be less vulnerable to people who might want to take advantage of you. But, don’t be too vigilant: two percent of bastards isn’t so bad. And, oxytocin causes us to empathize with others, the key to building social relationships. Russian playwright Anton Chekov said “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.” I’d say that’s about right-just watch for the occasional con.”


I just wrote a reply on the post about the self-help Guru who was conned-It was about trust. I should have read this post and comments first- Psychopaths cannot trust and use and destroy trust in their victims- and trust is necessary for connection but trust also makes us vulnerable….

Ox Drover

I have spent several hours today reading various articles that this article links to on Psychology Today and there is some great stuff there. Anyone interested should have a field day clicking from article to article.

kim frederick

Hey Oxy, me too…lots of good stuff.


Thanks for the article advice Oxy…..I’ll get to them when I can…..
Today…the weather is beautiful and I”VE GOT SOME GARDENING TO DO!!!!!
Moving ROCKS around my garden, 🙂 !



I sense that you may be struggling with the issue of trust.

Have you read Kathleen Hawk’s article on trust?
It’s great…I recommend it.

kim frederick

The old gray rock just aint what she used to be, aint what she used to be, everybody sing….

kim frederick

Yes, I agree with Rosa, the whole series is great.

Ox Drover

Yea, Kim, you got that right, sometimes people know the words, but just can’t get the music right!

And I thought I sang badly. In fact, once at an event with my living history group to determine the WORST singer in camp (another guy had held the title for years!) I TIED WITH HIM for the “honor” —you should have heard us “singing” (and I swear to you we were [email protected]) we sounded worse than Fat and Hairy in the mornings, braying their lungs out, at least they have some MELODY with their braying!


OR…..pretend to know the words and sing em wrong…..swearing they are singing the song right……

La, lalalalalalalalalalallllllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa


oooppss…..or was that
Chirp chirp chchchchiiiiiirrrppp!

kim frederick

Or they might be color blind but still know when to stop or go at a traffic light, just because they know the order of the lights, where as, I don’t even know the order of the lights, cause I don’t have to…I’m not color blind….does that make any sense?

kim frederick

Puts fingers in ears, and sings along with Oxy and EB, “LALALAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”


I think that part of what is helpful here on LF is that when describing the crazy making behavior and bizarre lies of the P, other here know exactly what you are talking about…I find that when I try to explain the insidious smoke and mirrors effect to people who have not experienced it, they have trouble understanding or believing both the behavior and its effect…Perhaps in dealing with trust I should just post here when something makes me uncomfortable and ask for a reality check-is it normal human fallibility or is it P behavior? like a back up alarm system…


That cracked me up….the colorblind comment.

After my strokes….I lost (well, so much)….but one thing that continually bugged me was I lost the ability to distinguish left and right….
So, I’d be dropping off kids and they’d say….my house is on the left….or turn rt. here…
I’d have to guess…..until I admitted it to my kids….I don’t know left from right anymore….it was pretty harsh for me…..
So….after a laugh and too many rt. turns as I should have gone left…..The kids showed me to put up both hands in front of my face and make the Loser sign….the hand that showed an L facing me was my LEFT hand…..
So for a bit they’d say turn left….and up went the hands….until I was trained to know which is which….

Ox Drover

Dear EB!

Hey, that is great! I didn’t have any strokes to blame things on, just the PTSD, but one day I was on the way to one of my closest friend’s houses, and I FORGOT HOW TO GET THERE! It was really bad, but the most discomboobilating part was admitting to my self I didn’t know how. Your kids are great and your solution was great!

It is really odd what happens when our brains don’t work right for some reason! But some of mine h ave come back and for the rest that are still “DUH!” I just laugh at myself and say CRS!

Ox Drover

Dear Philomela,

THAT’S A GREAT IDEA! Many of us do the same things, we talk about P stuff and even stupid stuff here on LF cause the people here GET IT! Just like ErinB and her “can’t remember left from right!” others would not get it, but WE DO cause we’ve had stranger things than that because of lapses in our memoiries or PTSD or just plain CRS! But WE GET it and we are okay with you not being perfect, cause WE AREN’T PERFECT. LOL Come here and ask questions, read and learn, and VENT IN ALL CAPP LETTERS IF YOU NEED TO! (((hugs))))


This reminded me of a friend I had a couple of years ago, for a couple of years before that. “Laura” placed an ad to start a women’s group, and a really great group of women in their 40s showed up. I was particularly impressed with Laura, who had an interesting career and seemed to have great insight into people. Laura even called me up one night to chat, and said she had some reservations about some of the people in the group, describing how they had acted irrationally to her. Well, I said, Craigslist doesn’t always turn up the highest class of people, even if they seem OK in the beginning.

Again and again, people disappointed Laura. Until finally, another girl in the group, whom we’ll call “Eliza,” got fed up with this. Laura called me as a pre-emptive strike against Eliza but said it was OK if I maintained a separate friendship with Eliza. This seemed to me a reasonable accommodation.

Then I heard from Eliza, who told a different story. Laura’s protest that Eliza was unreasonable, demanding, and had ruined Laura’s 50th birthday party was balanced by Eliza’s claim that Laura had started complaining to her about everyone else in the party, after we had all left. In fact, Laura said she hated my politics so was reconsidering our friendship — recall that later she had called me and, regardless of my politics, sought to enlist me against Eliza!

Eliza told me this was typical of Laura — to keep complaining about people, to create empathy for herself at the expense of others. Of course we listened! Of course we were angry at people who took advantage of Laura. Of course! No bastards, us. We were there for Laura.

The only problem is, it finally got around to me. And to Eliza.

And I noticed something else — this “short relationships” quality — Laura said she had been living in this city for two years when we met her. Yet where were her other, older friends? We did meet one or two people, but these seemed to be political acquaintances or coworkers. (For instance, one was a young man who was leaving on a trip to Afghanistan to teach journalism there; Laura threw him a party at a restaurant.)

It seems Laura starts groups, gradually gets rid of people, and then starts anew. All claiming that she is the injured party.

Eliza and I are now good friends, and while Eliza is far from a perfect person (as am I), I see no reason to fault her as a friend.

The “bastard” story reminds me that people with empathy can be taken advantage of quite easily by giving over their trust.


Thank you Donna.

Great article and specific to the point.

Even reading articles and others posts on LF causes an oxytocin release feeling and thus we bond and feel for others and want to help them. And we appreciate their help, and it helps us feel cared for and listened to.

On the other hand, ADRENALIN (maybe that is our “gut feeling”)..FEAR….adrenalin puts me into the PROTECT mode and I have no pity for those who are trying to con us, or who piss us off! Protection is for GOOD people.


Maybe that’s why sociopaths stalk do-gooder organizations. People there are highly motivated by oxytocin, which is released when they feel like they’re helping someone.


By the way, if anybody remembers my “Chrissy” story about the now 19-year-old kid I was mentoring — major oxytocin for helping someone so adorable! — I got sucked in again yesterday, when she apologized for what she did. But not really. I held her ass to the fire pretty good about opening the doors that are presented to her — rather than pulling this con where she solicits everyone’s help and then threatens to self-destruct anyway — the little “troubled teen” act. I’m going to hang tough on that one. Maybe she’ll get it. Maybe not. Either way, I’m not in the line of fire because she knows I’m keeping score now. And yelling.


We only know what we know and are willing to learn from others.

I don’t know your Chrissy story. Bless you! for being a mentor!

That is so true to open the doors that are put in front of us. They are there for a reason. It helps if they have window in them, of course!


Thanks for the “bless you.” I mostly get “What kind of an idiot are you?” Chrissy makes a game out of getting into messes and claiming she’s a victim — in front of the person who tried to show her how not to get into that mess. I called her bluff.

May not be a live link, but below an interesting article on Science Today about the P’s…
Just last night I was talking with freinds about the P’s latest con…and the comment was (from a fellow victim who still doesn’t quite get the P factor) that his behavior makes no sense…ie why lie and withold $$ from me when he could just make a deal and move on. Well- I said, because most of what he does makes no sense…blowing up his career, skipping the country etc etc…in other words, when we try to apply RATIONAL motivations and behaviors to these people we end up in a dead end.

So this little study makes things pop into place. Their brains are hard wired to care about the prize more than the risks of whatever their game is at the time. Brings me back to the greedy monkey that wont’t let go of the peanuts in the jar…even tho’ the jar is chained to the ground and he will starve.

Often times- the most resistance I get to people believing that my P could actually be what he is – is that the behavior I describe makes NO SENSE- and outwardly – he appears very calm, rational and sensible.

So this little gem clears up a lot for me at least- now if we could only figure out how to float the ultimate PSN “reward” just past the edge of some big cliff………..ha ha..: )

Psychopaths’ Brains Wired to Seek Rewards, No Matter the Consequences


When people dont get it, the way I explain the behavior is that he must have control and drama!!… otherwise, life is pretty boring just raising children etc.

When outsiders see the constant need for stimulation and intolerance of boredom…its easier to grasp.

I have also noticed that he would rather stir up a controversy over money in order to visit and pay the PC ; than just to give me the money requested for the children…cuz I have to pay the PC too!

I think he has been wired to need conflict to feel “normal”..rather than the opposite. He came from a high conflict/drama family. I am determined to raise my kids in addictions to drama!

Ox Drover

There are some great articles in psychology today, which are easily reached via this link to the one article about oxytocin.

It is easy to go from one GREAT article to another on this on line version of the “magazine.”

Many of the subjects we discuss here have some very interesting articles on them located there.




Wheels in motion baby.

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