[FOUNTAIN]The false ‘cloak’ of authorityA man was introduced differently to five groups of students ― as an undergraduate student, graduate student, part-time instructor, full-time instructor and tenured professor. When students in the five classes were asked to estimate his height, they saw the man as being taller as his status rose. The average answer of the students who thought he was a tenured professor was 5 centimeters (2 inches) taller than the answer of those who considered him a fellow undergraduate.
The American psychologist Robert Cialdini wrote in his book “The Psychology of Persuasion” that ordinary people obey even ridiculous authority more easily than one might expect. The title of tenured professor in his example is a kind of “cloak of authority.” Even when there is no substantial truth or proof about the authority, the cloak makes others obedient to the wearer. The cloak is a favorite tool for intelligent impostors. Recent examples of shocking fraud cases have involved the cloaks of authority called fame, title and political influence.
A popular fraud in the United States is the “phishing” scam, in which con artists go “fishing” for private information. Hackers start by sending e-mails that include the corporate logos of such firms as Citigroup, lure Internet users to sign up for their “service,” and collect personal information. The aura and reputation of a respectable company can turn into an effective cloak.
Average people are surprisingly vulnerable to authoritative titles. Kim Gil-su, who was a minor candidate in the presidential race last year, was arrested for defrauding one of his followers of several billion won. His business cards were decorated with obscure yet fancy titles such as “President of the Hoguk Party.”
Political power is a universal fraud device. We have seen impostors who pretended to be a second cousin of the first lady, presidential secretary for civil affairs or presidential aides. Some con artists boasted of their connections to influential figures. The Blue House even came up with a guideline to detect possible swindlers.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration wants to shed the authoritarian image of preceding governments. Then why do we still see so many cloaks of authority? There are too many fakes out there. In order to distinguish a cloaked authority from a real one, psychologists suggest recognizing the claimed authority 100 percent. Then you will see if he deserves such respect.
by Lee Kyu-youn
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.