There's one factor we'd need to nail down to tell if Donald Trump is conning us

Donald Trump on the stump. Photo: Getty Images

With Donald Trump surging in the GOP race, the other Republican candidates are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to discredit him. In a series of interviews, Marco Rubio repeatedly called Trump a “con artist.”

Business Insider’s video team recently asked psychology and science writer Maria Konnikova, author of a book about con artists, “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time,” what the science says about whether or not Trump really is a con artist.

First, it’s important to know that both con artists and politicians tend to score highly on tests designed to identify the so-called “dark triad” of personality traits. People who display these traits in an extreme form are also considered psychopaths:

  1. Machiavellianism: being manipulative
  2. Narcissism: loving yourself too much
  3. Psychopathy: lack of empathy

But, while psychopathy and con artistry are linked, one does not necessarily give rise to the other, as Konnikova writes in an excerpt from her book published on Slate.

“On one level, the data seem to suggest a direct affinity between the two” she writes. But, “It is possible, it turns out, to possess all the tenets of the dark triad, and then some, and still not turn to con artistry.”

When it comes to Trump then, says Konnikova, it all comes down to one factor: Intent.

“Con artists are intentionally deceiving you,” said Konnikova. They manipulate people simply for their own benefit.

So if Trump is being intentional about what he’s doing — if he knows what he’s saying is absurd but is doing it to “play the media”, the answer would be yes, he’s a con artist.

“That is certainly a con technique,” said Konnikova.

Here’s the problem: We don’t know if he’s doing it intentionally or if he really does believe the things he says. If that were true, and he is not deceiving people on purpose, then he’s not a true con artist, Konnikova said.

You can watch the full video with Maria Konnikova here:

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