Where Logic Meets Love

Are You Gullible or Skeptical?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

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Are You Gullible or Skeptical? | Faith Permeating Life

Sunday was April Fool's Day, my least favorite day of the year.

Why? Because I am a very gullible person.

Although I prefer to say I'm trusting.

It's frustrating to me that, if someone is trying to pull a prank on you or joke around with you, you "win" if you don't fall for it. This means you decide to doubt what they're saying to you, even if it's someone you normally trust, or you suspiciously pay close attention to everywhere you're walking and sitting and everything you're eating.

But I don't want to be that way. I prefer to put faith in other people as a general rule and to trust that they're not going to purposely lie to my face.

I mean, I get that it's a good idea to have a healthy skepticism if people say things that are totally nonsensical. I am a big proponent of fact-checking and all that. But I'm talking about people saying things to me that sound somewhat plausible, and then it's turns out they're just "pulling my leg."

The worst is when I'm in a new situation, like at a new place with people I don't know very well, like maybe at a coworker's party or visiting a friend's extended family or trying some experience for the very first time.

If someone says something that seems odd, I have to quickly decide if it's worse to make a Type I or Type II error. (Forgive the statistics talk -- it will make sense in a second.)

For example, here's the kind of conversation that happens all the time in movies:
Character 1: "So next we're going to [do this strange thing]."
Character 2: "Hahahahaha that's funny... wait, you're serious."
That's being overly skeptical.

Whereas I'm more likely to find myself in one of these situations:
Person I Just Met: "So next we're going to [do this strange thing]."
Me: "Oh... OK."
Person I Just Met: "Hahahahaha I'm just kidding! Hahahahaha!"
That's me. The gullible one.

When did being trusting or agreeable become something to mock?

The other problem is that when I do make the first kind of error -- let's say I'm talking with someone who I know jokes around a lot and they suggest something that sounds like a joke -- I don't usually respond by laughing. If I think they're pulling my leg, I usually make a sarcastic comment like, "Oh yeah, that would go over really well." And then I look like an idiot when I have to backpedal because I realize they weren't joking.

So I prefer to just trust people and get laughed at when I take them seriously. Maybe this makes me a gullible loser, but I like that version of myself better than the distrustful, sarcastic skeptic.

Where do you fall on the gullible-skeptical spectrum?


  1. I fall somewhere in the middle. I used to be SUPER SUPER SUPER gullible and my friends would take full advantage of that. But after awhile, I didn't really mind anymore because with my group of friends we just poke at each other like that because that's how we show we are. (Twisted, I know.) But with youth ministry and stuff - I have had to become SUPER SKEPTICAL. Well, maybe not too intense. But I've learned to be one step ahead of them, but without letting them know I am, while also being trusting. It's quite the balancing act.

    1. That makes sense that you'd have to be more skeptical with the teens at church since you're supposed to be kind of an authority figure, and you don't want to be the butt of their jokes such that they don't take you seriously. I do think it's less of a liability with close friends, who might make fun of you but aren't going to lose their respect for you just because you're gullible. I definitely struggle with this professionally because I'm already at somewhat of a disadvantage being female and young, so I have to fight the image that I'm naive.

  2. Yay for statistics references! I go the opposite way, and I worry that I'm too reluctant to commit to something that could be wrong. I used a slightly different stat reference in my post on this topic though. I was still talking about Type I and II, but in the context of ROC curves from epidemiology.

    1. Love your post! High five for applying stats principles to real life :)

      I think what you're talking about is being skeptical in a slightly different kind of situation. Where I find myself not being skeptical enough is when people tell me things about themselves or "factual" type information about their family or their company and either they're pulling my leg or I just don't pick up on their sarcasm. Those are things that they should know are true or not. On the other hand, if people tell me things they believe to be true about the world, either scientifically or politically or whatever, then I tend to be much more cautious and do more research on it. There's still the possibility for Type I and Type II errors, but it's less about "How likely is it that this person is lying to me?" and more about "This person truly believes this is true, but how likely are they to actually be correct?"

  3. Probably like you - much more trusting. April Fools tricks don't get me so much because generally on that day, I don't believe anything at all. But aside from that, I pretty much take everything at its face value.
    Case in point: I didn't fall for any April Fools tricks. I even questioned a couple of news stories that turned out to be legit. But today I only just saw an email that had actually been sent on 1st April, from Photobox (website which allows you to make lots of different creations from your photos), about a new device allowing you to get your toast to pop up with a photo marked into it. Clearly, this is ridiculous. But I didn't even give it a second thought - simply Oh my gosh this looks awesome, I have to show this to my best friend!. I clicked on the link, and oh hey: http://www.photobox.co.uk/crm/puk369/?cid=puk369BIN&rid=64c0694746.

    Got me.

    1. So often when companies do April Fool's stuff like that, when I find out it's a joke I'm like, "Well, it should exist because that would be awesome." :)

  4. The statistics talk is totally applicable here.

    1. Glad some people understand what I'm talking about! It seemed like the best way to describe it.

  5. I'm in between. I have a pretty level head and am pretty good at sniffing out the BS when it's shoveled at me. I rarely believe people when they are lying (or "fooling" if you want to pretend its anything other than dishonesty) and I rarely doubt people who turn out to be truthful.

    It also depends on the situation. I know one person who repeatedly quotes false statistics (or invents them to suit her purposes) and makes up stories to fit her agenda. I rarely believe anything she says. If she said it was raining, I would look out a window rather than believe her.

    But most other people, I trust them until I find out I shouldn't. The longer I know them, the more I trust them.

    1. That's great that you've found a balance between trust and skepticism. I would guess that it's somewhat of a feedback loop as well -- if people know you're unlikely to fall for their tricks, they're less likely to try to fool you, whereas people are more likely to try to mess with me if they know I'm likely to fall for it.

  6. I'm definitely the same as you. I am gullible, but I do also decide to err on the gullible side as a precaution if I'm not 100% sure if they're joking or not. I'd much prefer to be thought of as a gullible/trusting person than put my foot in it.

    1. Exactly. I think it's more embarrassing to laugh at someone who's actually telling the truth than for someone else to successfully "fool" you.

  7. I tend to be really gullible unless I know someone is a joker. Then I have to ask the person 3 or 4 times if he/she is serious and I don't even feel bad because THEY are the one that is always joking, right?

    I agree that it's better to be thought of as gullible than make someone else feel bad.

    1. Yeah, if someone is always trying to trick me, then I tend to be very doubtful of anything they say. Maybe this means I will be rude/sarcastic to them when I shouldn't be, but like you said, that's kind of what they get for being that way -- like the boy who cried wolf.


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