VET Trainees duped: aspects of being exploited by others.


Trade is an ineluctable aspect of the human condition—and hence so is the possibility of being duped.

Escape clause for duped VET students

The federal government introduced a new ‘cooling-off’ provision that will allow students signed up by some colleges to back out of agreements.

Senator Birmingham has also issued a warning to recruitment companies about using bogus job ads in order to gather personal details of job applicant which are passed on to training providers. “If I find the current laws are inadequate to deal with it, I will be happy to strengthen the rules,” he said.


Extracts from: Feeling Duped: Emotional, Motivational, and Cognitive Aspects of Being Exploited by Others, Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister and Jason Chin, Review of General Psychology, 2007, Vol. 11, No. 2, 127–141


Duped, Scammed and Suckered: The Development of the Sugrophobia Scale Robert Madrigal, Marcus Wardley, Catherine Armstrong-Soule, Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 42, 2014

Keywords: sucker, duped, trust, decision, emotion, skepticism


There are both cognitive and emotional consequences associated with being duped. One such cognitive consequence is counterfactual thinking. However, emotional consequences are likely to predominate. These might include self-blame and anger. Particularly likely are self- conscious emotions (e.g., guilt, shame, pride, regret). Rather than eliciting specific behaviors, these emotions are more apt to affect cognitive processing by focusing on how such duping and its associated pain might be avoided in the future.

Case study

A woman went into a Best Buy store to buy a new computer chip. When she went to the cashier to pay for her purchase, the store cashier offered the woman a free 8-week subscription to a popular magazine. The woman was suspicious about the offer, so she asked for more details. The cashier told her that there were no obligations whatsoever and no other details to reveal. After a few more questions, the woman agreed to accept the free offer, and she chose to have eight weeks of Time magazine.

When she got home, the woman looked at the bottom of her receipt, only to find in tiny print that her credit card was going to be charged for 24 issues (8 free 16 paid) of the magazine at a price of $24.98. The only way to get “free” issues, in fact, was to cancel the subscription charge during the 8-week trial period; else, the whole amount would be charged to the woman’s credit card. The woman felt cheated and taken for a sucker. She felt worse when she looked at the magazine’s website, which showed that not only was she taken advantage of in terms of entering into a contract she did not want, but also that Best Buy did not even give her a good deal—the same payment of $24.98 would have yielded her 84 issues of the magazine as purchased off its own website (Lazarus, 2006).

The newspaper report of this incident elicited over 100 angry letters from readers who said they too had been duped by this same phony bargain. The purpose of this manuscript is to pull together the scattered bits of theory and data about the phenomenon of being duped by others.

Being duped or suckered (we use the terms interchangeably) is an important dimension of human social life and a possibility that can subvert many economic interactions. We shall focus on the reactions of the person who is duped rather than the cheater.

Because of the recurrent danger of being duped, we propose, people have developed cognitive, emotional, motivational, and personality structures that are designed to prevent it from happening at all and especially from happening repeatedly…Our review is intended to stimulate more research on this phenomenon.

There is not a wealth of already existing findings to cover. We shall therefore organize our article around the theoretical structure and cover relevant findings along the way.

Evidence of duping

Tests of the honesty of car mechanics show evidence of duping as well: research in Germany indicates that similar quality service is done at pricy car repair shops as compared to less expensive repair garages, whereas work done at the former costs twice as much (Emons, 2003). The United States does not escape from car mechanic duping either, as a case against Sears Automotive showed. In the early 1990s, Sears automotive departments were offered incentives (e.g., sales commissions, five-figure cash bonuses, and Caribbean vacations) for reaching sales targets, which seems to have promoted the giving of unnecessary services.

One test that used undercover cars revealed that in 90% of the time these repair shops performed unnecessary service. Initially when these claims were aired, Sears tried to claim that the practice of replacing parts before they were bad was “a common practice in the industry” and that these actions counted as preventive maintenance. Later, though, when it was pressed, Sears finally recognized that “goal setting process for service advisers created an environment where mistakes did occur” after which they paid $8 million to settle these accusations.

What makes a person feel duped?

The emotional reaction of feeling duped rests on a fairly complex cognitive appraisal. One will only feel duped insofar as the cognitive construal of the situation fits the following model.

First, oneself and the other person shared some assumption of fairness and one trusted the other to adhere to it.

Second, one’s outcome was unfair in a disadvantageous way. We assume that when people agree to a contract, the parties have found it to be fair-enough to consent to it, even if each person sees some minor aspects of the contract as unfair.

Third, the other person knowingly and intentionally brought this about, thus deliberately violating one’s trust.

Fourth, the victim made decisions that contributed to that outcome, and had one chosen differently, the bad outcome could have been prevented.


Being duped carries the possibility of self-blame, though some people may manage to construct an interpretation that minimizes or eliminates self-blame. Insofar as the victim made decisions that could have prevented the outcome, the victim bears potential responsibility. The self-blame aspect carries the threatening implication that the self is stupid or gullible or otherwise socially incompetent at exchange interactions. Because people are reluctant to embrace such negative views of self, they will react to being duped by wanting to avoid letting it happen again. Hence it is important to learn the lesson.

Reluctance to admit having been duped

…..people are reluctant to admit having been duped (because they blame themselves)— but such admissions are often useful in enabling the person to learn the lesson and avoid being duped again. Both of these aspects were demonstrated by Sagarin, Cialdini, Rice, and Serna (2002) in their research on how to help people resist deceptive and illegitimate advertising. They showed that most people have a “can’t happen to me” sense of invulnerability, which is to say they recognize both the existence of duping and the fact that other people will sometimes fall for it, but they believe themselves sophisticated and vigilant enough to resist it.

This study thus suggests that when people feel their attitudes are trying to be influenced, they become aware of the fact that the influencer has something to gain and consequently the potential consumers may retreat from the deal. Advertisements, most of which ultimately aim to increase demand for a product, may backfire insofar as they make people aware that they may be duped and, ironically, ads may have the effect of somewhat decreasing purchasing.


An emotional reaction is likely to be central to being suckered. Our view is that the function of the emotional reaction is less to initiate behavior, as many traditional theories have assumed, than to shape and guide cognitive processing, and recent reviews have indeed concluded that emotion has much more common and reliable effects on cognitions than on behavior (e.g., Schwarz & Clore, 1996, in press). Of particular relevance is Roese’s (1997) conclusion from an extensive literature review that aversive emotional states are among the most powerful stimulants for counterfactual thinking.

Thus, the adaptive process would be that being duped causes an aversive state, which in turn seizes attention and drives counterfactual analysis, so that the person learns a useful lesson and is able to avoid repeating the experience. The aversiveness helps motivate the process because the person wants to avoid having that same feeling again.

We have suggested that feeling duped is likely to be among the selfconscious emotions, alongside shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride (Tangney & Fischer, 1995). Anger would also likely be part of the emotional reaction to feeling duped, although individuals may be able to distinguish the duped feeling from their simultaneous anger. Anger might be directed primarily at the person who violated norms and took advantage of one (Dunn & Schweitzer, 2005), but there may also be anger at the self for letting it happen.

Depending on the extent of self-blame, the anger toward self could even evoke some degree of shame. Empirically, shame motivates a tendency either to lash out at others or to hide (Tangney, Wagner, Hill-Barlow, Marshall, & Gramzow, 1996), and either reaction could be manifest among duped persons—either to be reluctant to admit that they were duped (which might benefit the exploiter) or to attack the person responsible (which would endanger the exploiter).

Motivation to avoid being duped (sugrophobia)

A motivation to avoid being duped (sugrophobia, in our term) would be adaptive to humans and to any other creatures that live amid economic markets in which duping is possible. Duping, after all, deprives the victim of resources and thereby potentially jeopardizes survival and reproduction. The proximal cause by which the motivation operates is likely to be the aversiveness of the emotional reaction: people learn to watch for and avoid being duped because they do not want to repeat the unpleasant emotional feeling….

…. Economists have argued over whether the destructive outcomes of the commons dilemma are caused by greed, in that a herdsman buys more sheep in order to increase his individual revenue, or by fear of being suckered, in that he recognizes that others may behave noncooperatively and does not want to be the only sucker not taking from the common pool. Researchers originally downplayed the contribution of sugrophobic motivation, thinking that greed was sufficient to explain the phenomena, until more recent research indicated that the fear of being suckered may indeed play a role in a variety of social dilemmas. The commons dilemma is similar to social goods dilemmas, in which people may choose to contribute any amount to the common good, whereupon the total contribution is multiplied and divided equally among participants.

Rapoport and Eshed-Levy (1989) used a simulated social dilemma to test the effects of greed versus the fear of being suckered on the amount participants would contribute. Through manipulation of the payoff structures, researchers were able to create a condition that would only be affected by greed, a condition only affected by fear of being suckered, and a condition affected by both (the standard social dilemma). The condition only affected by anticipation of being suckered involved the participant losing money if he contributed while no one else did but no reward if he didn’t contribute and others did (to rule out the effect of greed). Rapoport and Eshed-Levy found that both fear of being suckered (sugrophobia) and greed significantly reduced the amount that participants contributed to the common good. (Greed is not a sufficient explanation.)

Miller et al. (2005) state, “Of the various errors that observers can commit, being duped may be the one they fear most” (p. 127). It seems that people are chronically looking out for information about whether others are dishonest (Fein, Hilton, & Miller, 1990), presumably because they do not want to be shown to be a fool. In short, people fear being taken for a fool so much so that being wary for others’ dishonesty is a chronically activated goal.

Behavioral Consequences

Reactions to being duped were studied experimentally by Haley and Strickland (1986). Their participants were given an initial explanation of a potentially lucrative prisoner’s dilemma game. During the experimenter’s brief absence, the confederate initiated a hurried conversation featuring a promise to cooperate on all trials so that both players could profit. (In a control condition, participants worked on a puzzle and received unsolicited help from the confederate.) When the game began, however, the confederate did not cooperate and therefore profited at the expense of the (cooperating) participant.

One measure was how participants played on subsequent trials after the betrayal on the first round. Not surprisingly, most participants quickly switched to a more antagonistic and self-protective style of play, and depressed participants in particular never made another cooperative move after the first (unlike non-depressed participants, who often gave cooperation a second or third try).

Thus, being duped produced a quick change toward more vigilant behavior, and there were significant individual differences (depression) as to how severely sugrophobic people became after being duped for the first time….

Conclusions, implications, and research priorities

The goal of this article was to stimulate research on a potentially important pattern of emotion and decision-making. We have proposed that when decisions lead to being taken advantage of by others, the person has a specific (and aversive) emotional response that can in- fluence cognition and motivation. Conversely, the anticipation of that emotion can in turn influence decisions—for better or worse— insofar as sugrophobic concerns can cause people to choose on the basis of minimizing the likelihood of being duped rather than pursuing what may seem or even actually be a highly advantageous opportunity…

…trade is an ineluctable aspect of the human condition—and hence so is the possibility of being duped.

An improved recognition of the cognitive, emotional, motivational, and behavioral aspects of being duped therefore promises to shed light not only on decision-making processes but on a vital aspect of human nature.


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