Gullibility is a failure of social intelligence
Social intelligence
Social intelligence describes the exclusively human capacity to use very large brains to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments....

 in which a person is easily tricked or manipulated
Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

 into an ill-advised course of action. It is closely related to credulity
Credulity is a state of willingness to believe in one or many people or things in the absence of reasonable proof or knowledge.Credulity is not simply belief in something that may be false. The subject of the belief may even be correct, but a credulous person will believe it without good...

, which is the tendency to believe
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

 unlikely propositions that are unsupported by evidence.

Classes of people especially vulnerable
Vulnerability refer to the susceptibility of a person, group, society, sex or system to physical or emotional injury or attack. The term can also refer to a person who lets their guard down, leaving themselves open to censure or criticism...

 to exploitation
This article discusses the term exploitation in the meaning of using something in an unjust or cruel manner.- As unjust benefit :In political economy, economics, and sociology, exploitation involves a persistent social relationship in which certain persons are being mistreated or unfairly used for...

 due to gullibility include children, the elderly, and the developmentally disabled.


The words gullible and credulous are commonly used as synonym
Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn and onoma . The words car and automobile are synonyms...

s. state that while both words mean "unduly trusting or confiding", gullibility stresses being duped or made a fool of, suggesting a lack of intelligence
Intelligence has been defined in different ways, including the abilities for abstract thought, understanding, communication, reasoning, learning, planning, emotional intelligence and problem solving....

, whereas credulity stresses uncritically forming beliefs, suggesting a lack of skepticism
Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere...

. states the difference is a matter of degree: the gullible are "the easiest to deceive", while the credulous are "a little too quick to believe something, but they usually aren't stupid enough to act on it."

characterize a gullible person as one who is both credulous and naïve
Naivety , is the state of being naive—having or showing a lack of experience, understanding or sophistication. One who is naive may be called a naif.- Etymology :...

. stresses the distinction that gullibility involves an action
Social actions
In sociology, social action refers to an act which takes into account the actions and reactions of individuals .According to Max Weber, "an Action is 'social' if the acting individual takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course" .- Social action and Max Weber :The...

 in addition to a belief, and there is a cause-effect relationship between the two states: "gullible outcomes typically come about through the exploitation of a victim's credulity.

In the dictionary

A popular test of gullibility is to tell a friend that the word gullible isn't in the dictionary
A dictionary is a collection of words in one or more specific languages, often listed alphabetically, with usage information, definitions, etymologies, phonetics, pronunciations, and other information; or a book of words in one language with their equivalents in another, also known as a lexicon...

; a gullible person might respond "Really?" and go to look it up. Unsurprisingly, modern English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 dictionaries do indeed contain the word, although some of the earliest dictionaries did not.

The verb to gull and the noun cullibility (with a C
Ĉ or ĉ is a consonant in Esperanto orthography, representing the sound .Esperanto orthography uses a diacritic for all four of its postalveolar consonants, as do the Latin-based Slavic alphabets...

) date back to Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 and Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

, whereas gullibility is a relatively recent addition to the lexicon. It was considered a neologism as recently as the early 19th century. The first attestation of gullibility known to the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

 appears in 1793, and gullible in 1825. The OED gives gullible as a back-formation
In etymology, back-formation is the process of creating a new lexeme, usually by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a back-formation, a term coined by James Murray in 1889...

 from gullibility, which is itself an alteration of cullibility.

Early editions of Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

's A Dictionary of the English Language
A Dictionary of the English Language
Published on 15 April 1755 and written by Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, sometimes published as Johnson's Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language....

, including those published in 1797 and 1804, do not contain "gullibility" or "gullible". An 1818 edition by Henry John Todd
Henry John Todd
Henry John Todd was an English clergyman, librarian, and scholar, known as an editor of John Milton.He was librarian at Lambeth Palace , and examined and described manuscripts, chiefly biblical, which formerly belonged to Professor Carlyle, Orientalist, and after his death were transferred to the...

 denounces "gullibility" as "a low expression, sometimes used for cullibility". Gullibility does not appear in Noah Webster
Noah Webster
Noah Webster was an American educator, lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author...

's 1817 A dictionary of the English language, but it does appear in the 1830 edition of his American dictionary of the English language
Webster's Dictionary
Webster's Dictionary refers to the line of dictionaries first developed by Noah Webster in the early 19th century, and also to numerous unrelated dictionaries that added Webster's name just to share his prestige. The term is a genericized trademark in the U.S.A...

, where it is defined: "n. Credulity. (A low word)". Both gullibility and gullible appear in the 1900 New English Dictionary.


presents dozens of examples of gullibility in literature and history. In the fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

 The Adventures of Pinocchio, the title character is a gullible puppet who is repeatedly duped by other characters; part of his transformation into a human being is learning to avoid gullibility while still exercising empathy
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B...

. In the first part of "Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood, also known as Little Red Cap, is a French fairy tale about a young girl and a Big Bad Wolf. The story has been changed considerably in its history and subject to numerous modern adaptations and readings....

", the title character is deceived by a wolf; from this experience she learns to feign gullibility in order to deceive a second wolf. In "The Emperor's New Clothes
The Emperor's New Clothes
"The Emperor's New Clothes" is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent...

", the emperor and his staff display gullibility in being swindled, while the crowd displays credulity in believing in the invisible cloth. Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 depicts mass gullibility in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is an 1876 novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. The story is set in the Town of "St...

 and The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today is an 1873 novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner that satirizes greed and political corruption in post-Civil War America. Although not one of Twain's better-known works, it has appeared in more than one hundred editions since its original publication. Twain...

, among others. Shakespeare explores gullibility in the title characters of Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

, Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...

, and especially Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

. Of the examples of deception found in the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, the tale that most concerns the behavior of the deceived is Samson
Samson, Shimshon ; Shamshoun or Sampson is the third to last of the Judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Tanakh ....

 in the Book of Judges
Book of Judges
The Book of Judges is the seventh book of the Hebrew bible and the Christian Old Testament. Its title describes its contents: it contains the history of Biblical judges, divinely inspired prophets whose direct knowledge of Yahweh allows them to act as decision-makers for the Israelites, as...

, a character who is destroyed by his gullibility in the face of love. The best-known example is Eve
Eve is the first woman created by God in the Book of Genesis.Eve may also refer to:-People:*Eve , a common given name and surname*Eve , American recording artist and actress-Places:...

's gullibility in the Book of Genesis.

Deception is a classic theme in war and politics—see The Art of War
The Art of War
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise that is attributed to Sun Tzu , a high ranking military general and strategist during the late Spring and Autumn period...

 and The Prince
The Prince
The Prince is a political treatise by the Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. From correspondence a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus . But the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after...

—and Greenspan finds the example most concerned with the gullibility of the deceived to be the Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the stratagem that allowed the Greeks finally to enter the city of Troy and end the conflict. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside...

. In the Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

s version of the story, the Trojans are initially wary, but vanity and wishful thinking eventually lead them to accept the gift, resulting in their slaughter. Greenspan argues that a related process of self-deception and groupthink factored into the planning of the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 and the Second Iraq War. In science and academia, gullibility has been exposed in the Sokal Hoax and in the acceptance of early claims of cold fusion
Cold fusion
Cold fusion, also called low-energy nuclear reaction , refers to the hypothesis that nuclear fusion might explain the results of a group of experiments conducted at ordinary temperatures . Both the experimental results and the hypothesis are disputed...

 by the media. In society, tulipmania and other investment bubbles involve gullibility driven by greed, while the spread of rumor
A rumor or rumour is often viewed as "an unverified account or explanation of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern" However, a review of the research on rumor conducted by Pendleton in 1998 found that research across sociology,...

s involves a gullible eagerness to believe (and retell) the worst of other people. April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day is celebrated in different countries around the world on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when many people play all kinds of jokes and foolishness...

 is a tradition in which people trick each other for amusement; it works in part because the deceiver has a social license to betray the trust they have built up over the rest of the year.


Some writers on gullibility have focused on the relationship between the negative trait of gullibility and positive trait of trust. The two are related, as gullibility involves an act of trust. writes that exploiters of the gullible "are people who understand the reluctance of others to appear untrusting and are willing to take advantage of that reluctance." In 1980, Julian Rotter
Julian Rotter
Julian Rotter is an American psychologist who is known for developing influential theories, including social learning theory and locus of control.-Background:...

 wrote that the two are not equivalent: rather, gullibility is a foolish application of trust despite warning signs that another is untrustworthy.

See also

  • Drinking the Kool-Aid
    Drinking the Kool-Aid
    "Drinking the Kool-Aid" is a metaphor commonly used in the United States and Canada that refers to a person or group's unquestioning belief in an ideology, argument, or philosophy without critical examination. The phrase typically carries a negative connotation when applied to an individual or group...

  • Sheeple
    Sheeple is a term of disparagement, in which people are likened to the herd animals sheep. The term is often used to denote persons who voluntarily acquiesce to a perceived authority figure's suggestion without critical analysis or sufficient research to understand the ramifications of that decision...

  • Swampland in Florida
    Swampland in Florida
    Swampland in Florida refers to decades-old but still recurring real estate scams involving swamp lands misrepresented as being possible to develop, or "buildable"...

  • There's a sucker born every minute
    There's a sucker born every minute
    "There's a sucker born every minute" is a phrase often credited to P. T. Barnum , an American showman. It is generally taken to mean that there will always be many gullible people in the world.-Attribution to Barnum:...

  • Vulnerabilities exploited by manipulators
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