Have you ever wondered about the life of a con artist and how or why they become one? You might have heard the name Anna Delvey recently, from the Netflix series Inventing Anna. But what you might not know is her real name is Anna Sorokin.
Disclaimer: This article is not made to attack anyone who may display these signs or anyone diagnosed as a sociopath, but rather to understand them and bring more awareness to the topic!
With that said, let’s explore the psychology of Anna Delvey.
So Who Is Anna Delvey?
Anna Delvey is an alias of a woman who pretended to be a German Heiress. She conned lots of money ($275,000) from New York’s rich elite, including banks, hotels and private jet companies by claiming she had a trust fund of $67 million. She lied her way into nightclubs and parties by flaunting her wealth and her fake luxury lifestyle on social media. But in reality, she was a girl from a working-class Russian family interning at a fashion magazine who served less than four years of her 4-12 year prison sentence, after being released for good behaviour.
Because she had the belief and confidence that she could pull it off in a ‘fake it til you make it’ impostor syndrome sort of way. People believed her confidence with something called social proof: when large groups of people believe something, others will too.
So why didn’t Anna’s so-called friends notice any red flags in her behaviour? Even when she asked them to pay for plane tickets and taxis, and all-expense trips because she said she had trouble moving money from Europe? Because she was confident, she gaslit people and because of something called ‘facework’, where most people feel uncomfortable calling out people who do bad things because we trust that people are good/truthful, so they just let it slide.
Psychologist Maria Konnikova looks at Anna’s mindset and says it exploits our fascination for an existence that’s out of the ordinary. She says we con people every day in our social behaviour. Like when we pretend to like or dislike the same things as our friends to create common ground, which is almost a form of manipulation!
Former FBI agent and psychologist Jack Schafer has interviewed scammers for years and says women may be better con artists due to differences in the brain. A thicker corpus callosum – the part that joins both hemispheres – could give women the advantage with more complex decision making, persuasion and trust that creates a connection with others. Or the illusion of connection and friendship. This is done by psychological techniques like mirroring which is mimicking other people’s gestures and body language.
So what is the psychology behind Anna Delvey? There are a few different aspects behind Anna’s behaviour and how she was able to get away with conning so many people.
Anna has issues with vanity and entitlement and she’s being called narcissistic, even though Personality psychologist Brent Roberts says narcissistic aspects like vanity and entitlement is on the decline in young people.
2. Delusions of grandeur
Psychologists worldwide have examined Anna’s mental disorder and say she has ‘delusions of grandeur’ which is when you think you have more wealth or power or other qualities than you do.
Anna is psychopathic because she doesn’t care about rules or others’ feelings or have remorse. According to the Psychology in Seattle podcast on The Psychology of Anna Delvey, she’s probably on the psychopathic spectrum, because she doesn’t care about societal rules or other people’s feelings and doesn’t mind lying to others or have much remorse. She also doesn’t have a problem with manipulating people, which she’s good at. But even though she did some psychopathic things, on the scale of psychopathy she’s kind of low. The issue was that she had big dreams and she was running out of money. Because she’s on the psychopathic scale she doesn’t try to achieve her dreams of wealth and fame the normal way so she starts to scheme and deceive people to get what she wants.
One of Anna’s friends, Rachel Williams, that defrauded of $62,000 when she paid the bill for a trip to Morocco for Anna, calls her a sociopath. According to a Psychology Today article sociopaths share some traits with psychopaths – a disregard for laws and social values, not caring about others and not feeling guilt or remorse.
Anna uses this technique when people question her about not being able to make payments for things (because she doesn’t actually have any money). But she’s supposed to be rich, right? So she acts like people are being stupid for questioning her about it because that’s ridiculous, of course the money will come – because she’s loaded! She makes the other people feel like they’ve got it all wrong and they’re stupid for thinking that.
6. Social proof
Social proof occurs when you have people on board with you it’s easier to get others to follow. This happens with large social media followings like Anna got with her fake lavish Instagram lifestyle. Once you start networking with high flyers, you’ll make more connections with other rich and famous people, giving you more credibility and more people will believe what you say (even if you’re lying).
Vanessa Bohns, a social psychologist, says that Anna and other con artists exploit the processes we rely on daily as we communicate and cooperate as human beings in society because we trust others more than distrust them.
It might be hard to believe that people who hardly knew Anna gave her their money and believed her when she said she’d get it later. Psychologists have done many experiments over the years of people giving money to complete strangers thinking they’ll make a profit. Even when people really wonder if they’ll get their money back – they still do it!
7. First impressions
Making a great first impression happens in seconds through clothes, body language and facial expressions. It can lead people to believe certain things about someone, and then it’s hard to change their minds. Anna gave the impression that she was wealthy with designer clothes and staying in expensive hotels (that she didn’t end up paying for). Another aspect of human behaviour is that we presume other people are sincere and believe people are truthful, so when a first impression is someone is rich, they stick to that belief. Some researchers have found evidence for the ‘truth default’. In experiments, when interrupting people when they’re trying to figure out if statements are true or false, people defaulted to saying they were true. Because if we don’t trust others or believe they’re telling the truth, and believe who they say they are, we can’t build relationships with other people! And we have to trust others otherwise society doesn’t work – how would AirBnB or ride-sharing work if we didn’t trust strangers?
8. Reality Framing
Another technique is reality framing where you build a certain reality and live it 100% so that other people buy into it and believe it too, even if it’s totally fake, and that’s what Anna did. And anyone who questions her reality is gaslighted and made to believe they’re being ridiculous.
What do you think of Anna Sorokin pretending to be young, rich Anna Delvey who influenced others to pay for things for her because they believed she was wealthy when she really wasn’t? Looking into the psychology behind why certain people like con artists do what they do is really interesting, don’t you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Until next time, thanks for reading!
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