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Stephen Greenspan, PhD
Exploring and facilitating human competence
Foolish Action in Adults

This paper represents a major breakthrough in my scholarly thinking about social incompetence in general, and gullibility in particular. I now describe gullibility as one of three sub-types (what I also term "induced social") of "foolish action", with the other two being "non-induced social" and "practical". Foolish action can be described as behavior that fails to take into account risks or dangers that are relatively obvious to most people. Social foolishness occurs when the risk is from other people, while practical foolishness involves risks that could do physical harm to people (including the subject himself) or property. A four-factor causative model of foolish action is presented in which I hypothesize that any foolish act can be understood to be the result of some combination of: situation, cognition, affect/ state and personality. Three populations - average ability adults and teens, intellectually disabled (ID) adults - are compared in terms of 18 foolish action episodes collected for each population from the media or other sources. While all four causative factors can be found to cause foolish actions in all three populations, cognition is always implicated with the ID adults, situations (peer pressure) is almost always present when teens act foolishly, while affect is almost always involved in foolish acts by average adults. The foolish acts by ID adults typically have social consequences, and these furthermore are fairly obvious. For average teens and adults the consequences are typically more hidden, with social foolishness of adults less likely to be induced.

The paper explores the increased vulnerability of individuals to behave foolishly who have brain damage, particularly Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Examples of foolish acts by people with FASD are explored. Implications for research and policy issues (including classification and definition) are explored. Among the many implications of a theory of foolish action, is that it moves the construct of gullibility to a more central place in understanding ID and related disorders in which social and practical vulnerability are core problems.