Return to Home
Stephen Greenspan, PhD
Exploring and facilitating human competence
Gullibility and Foolishness

My work on social/ personal competence and social intelligence is fairly well-known, especially in special education, school psychology and Intellectual Disabilities (in whose publications it has mainly appeared). However, my recent emphasis on gullibility and foolish action has, I believe, taken my work to a new level, in terms both of quality and social relevance. This work has, I believe, many implications for developing a better understanding of the reasons why people with brain-based disorders are vulnerable in everyday life and need supports and protections. However, I also believe that gullibility and foolish action are problems for all people, regardless of IQ level, and that my work on these constructs could contribute to a better understanding of what it means to succeed or fail in the everyday world.

It is not an exaggeration to say that there has been very little systematic research or scholarship on the construct of "gullibility" (which I define as a tendency to be duped or manipulated by others). I began to think about gullibility around 1994, when I became interested in the problem of false confessions to murder given by people with brain-based disorders. In looking at the social histories of wrongly incarcerated people (such as Connecticut´s Richard Lapointe) with such disorders, one sees individuals described universally as extremely gullible and socially vulnerable. And in looking at the circumstances of police interrogations (which use deceptive statements and threats to create confusion and anxiety), one sees a situation in which such individuals are sitting ducks for a tragic and (in the case of Lapointe) unjustified outcome.

I began to explore the phenomenon of gullibility in a series of papers, some of which can be downloaded below. This work began to be noticed mainly in the field of Intellectual Disabilities, where there is now much greater awareness (for example in the 2002 AAIDD "red book" classification manual) of the problem. The next step in my scholarly agenda was to bring about a greater interest in gullibility and related social vulnerability by psychologists, social scientists and the general public. A major development in this regard was the publication of my book ANNALS OF GULLIBILITY.

Related to my exploration of gullibility is a program of research into the broader and related construct of "foolish action." I define foolish action as behavior that shows unawareness of obvious risk or danger. These dangers can be practical (involving physical threat to person or property) or social (threat from actions by others), and gullibility (induced foolishness) is one of the two sub-types of socially foolish action (the other sub-type being non-induced social foolishness). I am excited about my work in this area and expect it will keep me happily occupied for the next decade or more.

More information about my work on gullibility and foolish action can be accessed through the following links: