How do intelligent people deceive effectively

Pseudo-intellectual: dazzle with an intellectual facade

"Mr. Wichter, why do some people pretend to know more than they actually have?"

Knowledge is an intangible good, whereby some people hope for a status increase in their counterparts through the pretense of knowledge. See, for example, the cases of dissertation plagiarism affairs, which are widely discussed in the media, where individuals have faked a greater intellectual achievement than they actually did. Of course, people also try to gain advantages by trying to fake knowledge that they do not actually have.

Pseudo-intellectual: definition, meaning, synonyms

"How can such› pseudo-intellectuals ‹be recognized?"

Here, of course, it would first be necessary to clarify the question of definition of what intellectuals are in general. The term ›pseudo-intellectual‹ is, after all, a very derogatory term and here, of course, one must first of all note from a psychological point of view that this term does not represent a pathology in itself, so we are not talking about a disorder with disease value. Equating intelligence with intellectuality is no longer modern: In addition to so-called cognitive intelligence, other intelligences, such as social and emotional intelligence, also play a major role in the assessment of a person. So if a studied person, i.e. a so-called intellectual, gives a non-studied person with this term disparagingly for any reason, then this term only clarifies the blasé view of the person who uses this term, but not the problems of those who might pretend to have a greater knowledge than he actually has.

Regarding the problem of a pseudo-intellectual facade, it could be said that there is often no well-founded intellectual ›depth‹ behind it. Some people want to dazzle and make a good impression with an intellectual facade and find it difficult to admit that they have knowledge gaps. Above all, intellectuals can be recognized by the fact that they know, if they do not know something and have learned something, then to ask the right questions in order to get ahead in a subject area. 'I know that I know nothing', this phrase has already been said to Socrates. Some find it difficult to accept ignorance. You can also rely on your gut feeling here as to whether the other person is trying to deceive you or not.

Uncover pseudo-intellectual sayings and ramblings

"If this gut feeling creeps up on me, how can I - even without my own expert knowledge in the respective area - take the wind out of their sails?"

With the request to the other person to explain the knowledge in more detail until one has roughly understood the basics. You should always ask more carefully and not be confused if you really want to know something and have not yet understood it. If you then notice that something is not logical or does not make any sense or context, you should point it out. Experts are characterized by the fact that they can convey difficult relationships in other words in a simpler and understandable manner and can respond to constructive criticism.

If someone repeats the same hollow-looking phrase over and over again and is unable to address a specific question about the background and the origin of the supposed knowledge, one can simply express this observation: »I have the impression that you cannot justify your substantive point of view and also do not illuminate critically. The question arises to me whether you really know exactly what you are talking about. So could you please explain to me again, and this time a little more profoundly, on what you base your opinion on? How can you be so sure? "

Pseudo-intellectual impostors: Dangers

"To what extent can pseudo-intellectuals be dangerous?"

If ›pseudo-intellectuals‹ get too much responsibility in an area about which they pretend competence and then have to make important decisions, but ignore the consequences of their actions, this can of course turn out to be dangerous: a doctor or psychotherapist, for example, should too have really studied that and be what he pretends to be, so that patients do not suffer any harm to their health! Here in Germany there are very high standards and if someone is registered in the doctor's register and has a license to practice medicine, you can usually be sure that you will not fall victim to a quack.

If someone tries to deceive, then he often adorns himself with someone else's laurels, for example if cheated doctoral theses are not quoted correctly and the work of other people is pretended to be one's own. If such a practice is not punished, it also acts as a false moral example in non-intellectual social classes and this must of course have social consequences. So it can also be socially dangerous if you don't expose such people. In this respect, I approve of such Internet actions on plagiarism affairs that detect swindlers. Someone who exposes himself through hollow phrases and thereby makes himself ridiculous in front of others becomes dangerous only to himself and deserves our pity.

Psychology to explain and ameliorate pseudo-intellectual persons

"Regardless of whether you become dangerous to yourself or others - what therapeutic options are there?"

One can first examine the personality structures using psychodiagnostic procedures in order to find out what functionality the pseudo-intellectuality actually has - for example, whether someone behind this facade is rather insecure-avoidant, or rather narcissistic-arrogant. Narcissists are characterized by a low self-esteem that is hidden from other people and often from themselves. However, you often have to compensate or devalue yourself in front of others and you can build up a pseudo, intellectual facade around yourself so that nobody notices the low self-esteem underneath.

Of course, intellectuals can also deal with intellectuality in a very narcissistic manner: Hape Kerkeling's ›Hurz‹ from the 1990s is a very funny example of this, whereby intellectuals' sovereignty over art is poked fun at. Nowadays one can work very well and effectively on these problematic personality structures using the schema therapy mentioned above. The cognitive and emotional behavioral scheme, here for example the simulated intellectuality, can then be recognized as a compensation strategy for a low self-esteem and the person concerned can then learn new ways of dealing with himself and others.


Jan Jakob Wichter, 37 years old, studied psychology at the Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of Wales in Cardiff / Great Britain. He then did a postgraduate course in psychological psychotherapists with a focus on behavioral therapy. Wichter works in his own private practice in Berlin with adults, children and young people.