The Similarity/Attraction Theory And Relationship Scams

Another Example of How Our Own Psychology Heavily Influences Our Susceptibility to be Deceived!

Primary Category: Psychology of Scams

Authors:
•  Vianey Gonzalez B.Sc(Psych) – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

About This Article

The Similarity/Attraction Theory posits that individuals are drawn to others who share similar characteristics, such as attitudes, values, interests, and backgrounds, creating a sense of comfort and predictability. This theory is linked to cognitive biases like confirmation bias, in-group bias, homophily, stereotyping, the halo effect, and similarity bias, that reinforce our natural preference for similar others.

Scammers exploit these biases in trust-based relationship scams by fabricating similarities to establish credibility and manipulate victims. By creating a sense of familiarity and emotional connection, scammers gain the victim’s trust and deepen their dependency.

Understanding these tactics and biases is important in recognizing and preventing scams.

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The Similarity/Attraction Theory Suggests that People Like and are Attracted to Others Who are Similar, rather than Dissimilar, to themselves; “birds of a feather,” the adage goes, “flock together.”

So what does the Similarity/Attraction Theory have to do with Scams, Scammers, and Scam Victims?

The Similarity/Attraction Theory plays a significant role in trust-based relationship scams by exploiting cognitive biases that make individuals more likely to trust and bond with those who appear similar to them. Scammers use these biases to establish credibility, manipulate emotions, and gain the trust of their victims.

Similarity/Attraction Theory Overview

The Similarity/Attraction Theory suggests that individuals are more likely to be attracted to and form relationships with others who are similar to them in various aspects such as attitudes, values, interests, and backgrounds. This theory is grounded in the idea that similarity generates understanding, comfort, and predictability, which are key components in the development of interpersonal connections.

Basis of Attraction

  • The similarity in attitudes and beliefs creates a sense of validation and agreement, which is comforting and reduces the potential for conflict.
  • Shared interests and hobbies provide common ground for interaction and activities, facilitating bonding.
  • Similar backgrounds and experiences lead to a shared frame of reference, making communication easier and more meaningful.

Cognitive and Emotional Comfort

  • People are naturally inclined towards environments and relationships that feel familiar and predictable. Similarity reduces the cognitive load associated with understanding and predicting others’ behavior.
  • Emotional comfort stems from the reduced likelihood of disagreement and the increased probability of mutual understanding and support.

Social Identity and Group Dynamics

  • The theory aligns with social identity theory, which suggests that individuals derive a sense of identity and self-esteem from their group memberships. Similarity strengthens group cohesion and reinforces positive social identity.
  • Group dynamics often favor homogeneous groups where similarity enhances group harmony and effectiveness, reducing friction and increasing cooperation.

Mechanisms of Similarity in Trust-Based Relationship Scams

Creating a Sense of Similarity:

  • Shared Interests and Hobbies: Scammers often research their targets to find out their interests, hobbies, and preferences. They then present themselves as having similar interests to build a connection.
  • Common Backgrounds: Scammers might fabricate stories about their backgrounds, claiming to have grown up in the same town, attended the same school, or worked in the same industry. This fabricated similarity creates a sense of familiarity and trust.
  • Similar Values and Beliefs: By mirroring the target’s values and beliefs, scammers create an impression of moral alignment, which is crucial for establishing trust.

Exploiting Cognitive Biases:

  • Confirmation Bias: Victims are more likely to believe information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and perceptions. If a scammer presents themselves as having similar views and experiences, the victim’s confirmation bias strengthens the perceived authenticity of the scammer.
  • In-group Bias: Scammers leverage in-group bias by presenting themselves as part of the same social, cultural, or professional group as the victim. This in-group perception makes the victim more inclined to trust and support the scammer.
  • See below for more

Stages of Exploitation in Trust-Based Relationship Scams

Initial Contact and Rapport Building (Grooming Phase)

  • Personalization: Scammers initiate contact by personalizing their approach based on the victim’s profile. They use details gleaned from social media or other sources to create a sense of immediate familiarity.
  • Establishing Common Ground: Early interactions focus on finding and emphasizing commonalities, making the victim feel understood and connected.

Deepening the Relationship (Manipulation Phase)

  • Emotional Engagement: Scammers invest time in creating an emotional bond, sharing personal stories, and eliciting the victim’s stories. This deepens the sense of similarity and trust.
  • Building Dependency: Over time, scammers make the victim dependent on their interactions, positioning themselves as a trusted confidant or partner.

Exploitation Phase (Control Phase)

  • Request for Help: Once trust is established, scammers exploit this by requesting help, often framing it as an emergency that plays on the victim’s emotions and sense of loyalty.
  • Escalation of Demands: Initial small requests are often followed by larger demands, with scammers using the established trust and emotional bond to manipulate the victim into compliance.

Psychological and Emotional Manipulation

  • Trust Transfer: The victim transfers trust from their perception of similarity to the scammer, often overlooking red flags due to the established emotional bond.
  • Manipulation of Empathy: Scammers exploit the victim’s empathy by presenting themselves as facing a crisis, knowing that the emotional connection will prompt the victim to assist.
  • Isolation: Scammers may isolate the victim from their support network, reinforcing dependency on the scammer and reducing external input that could warn the victim of the scam.

The Cognitive Biases Behind Similarity/Attraction Theory

The Similarity/Attraction Theory is linked to several cognitive biases due to the way it influences our perceptions and interactions with others.

Here are the primary cognitive biases connected to this theory:

Confirmation Bias

Definition: The tendency to search for, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Link: When people are attracted to those who are similar to themselves, they are likely reinforcing their existing beliefs and attitudes. By engaging with like-minded individuals, they receive validation for their viewpoints, further entrenching their beliefs and leading them to seek out similar others more persistently.

In-group Bias (In-group Favoritism)

Definition: The tendency to favor members of one’s own group over those in out-groups.

Link: The attraction to similar individuals often translates into in-group bias, where individuals perceive those who share their characteristics (e.g., race, culture, beliefs) as more trustworthy and likable. This bias reinforces social cohesion within the group but can also lead to prejudice and exclusion of those who are different.

Homophily

Definition: The tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others.

Link: Homophily directly reflects the principles of the Similarity/Attraction Theory, demonstrating how people naturally gravitate towards others who share similar traits and backgrounds. This bias shapes social networks, friendships, and professional relationships, often leading to homogeneous groups.

Stereotyping

Definition: The tendency to have generalized beliefs about individuals based on their group membership.

Link: Attraction to similarity can lead to stereotyping, where individuals assume that others who share certain visible characteristics (e.g., ethnicity, gender) will also share deeper, less visible traits (e.g., values, attitudes). This cognitive shortcut simplifies social interactions but can result in inaccurate assumptions and limit exposure to diverse perspectives.

Halo Effect

Definition: The tendency to let an overall impression of a person influence our feelings and thoughts about their character.

Link: When attracted to someone similar, individuals may attribute positive qualities to them beyond what is justified. For instance, if someone shares your political views, you might also assume they are kind, intelligent, or competent, even without sufficient evidence.

Similarity Bias

Definition: The inclination to favor people who are similar to oneself.

Link: This bias is at the core of the Similarity/Attraction Theory. It involves preferring others who reflect one’s own characteristics and experiences, leading to more favorable treatment and interactions with those individuals.

Implications

Understanding these biases is crucial because they can have significant impacts on personal relationships, workplace dynamics, and broader social structures. Here are a few implications:

  • In Personal Relationships: While similarity can enhance comfort and understanding, it can also limit personal growth and exposure to new perspectives. Being aware of these biases can help individuals seek out more diverse friendships and partnerships.
  • In the Workplace: Similarity biases can lead to homogenous teams, which might stifle creativity and innovation. Recognizing these biases can help organizations implement more effective diversity and inclusion strategies, ensuring a broader range of ideas and solutions.
  • In Society: In-group favoritism and stereotyping contribute to social divisions and inequalities. Awareness and mitigation of these biases are essential for promoting social cohesion and equity.

Summary of Similarity/Attraction Theory

The Similarity/Attraction Theory suggests that individuals are more likely to be attracted to and form relationships with others who share similar characteristics, such as attitudes, values, interests, and backgrounds. This theory highlights the comfort and predictability that similarity provides, fostering understanding and reducing conflict. The theory is closely linked to several cognitive biases, including confirmation bias, in-group bias, homophily, stereotyping, the halo effect, and similarity bias. These biases contribute to our natural preference for those who are like us, reinforcing social cohesion but also potentially leading to exclusion and limited diversity.

In trust-based relationship scams, scammers exploit the principles of the Similarity/Attraction Theory by fabricating similarities to build trust and manipulate their victims. They create a sense of familiarity and emotional connection, leveraging cognitive biases to establish credibility and deepen the victim’s dependency. Awareness of these tactics and the underlying biases is crucial for recognizing and preventing such scams. Understanding the dynamics of the Similarity/Attraction Theory can help individuals and organizations foster more inclusive and diverse relationships, while also protecting against exploitation.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

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If you need to speak with someone now, you can dial 988 or find phone numbers for crisis hotlines all around the world here: www.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at www.ScamPsychology.org

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The information provided in this and other SCARS articles are intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

Note about Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices have the potential to create psychological distress for some individuals. Please consult a mental health professional or experienced meditation instructor for guidance should you encounter difficulties.

While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

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PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.

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