Mind games: How con artists get the better of you
By Maria Konnikova IN April 2015, an empire came crashing down: the empire of the self-styled wellness guru, Belle Gibson. “None of it is true,” she admitted. Her career had been based entirely on lies. And what lies they were. Two years earlier, Gibson had created a bestselling food app, The Whole Pantry, and was set to publish a cookbook by the same name. She had amassed millions of social media followers, in the process becoming a media fixture, a spokesperson for the eyebrow-raising notion that diet wasn’t just important for health; it could cure brain cancer. It’s a claim that would have sounded inane even to the most credulous audience were it not for Gibson’s own story: herself diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2009, she had foregone traditional therapy and managed to cure herself with “nutrition and holistic medicine.” Even for those not suffering from a particular ailment, the ebullient blonde offered an exciting prospect. If her diet could cure cancer, what else could it do? Whether you care to admit it, or even know it happened, the likelihood is that at some point you too have fallen for a similar kind of scam, the carefully crafted long con. But what motivates the Gibsons of this world to play out such outrageous lies at the expense of others – and what causes even the most rational mind to fall for outlandish claims, time and again?