Why older people are more susceptible to fraud: Area of the brain that deals with trust is less active in pensioners
01:39 GMT, 4 December 2012
Age-related changes to the brain could make pensioners more susceptible to fraud, scientists say.
They have found that an area of the brain that helps us work out who can be trusted is less active in older men and women.
Researchers examined a group of people with an average age of 23, and another with an average age of 68. They were both shown a range of photographs and asked to judge how approachable and trustworthy the people in them seemed.
Trust issues: Pensioners are more susceptible to fraud than younger people
There was no difference in how the groups rated the faces that were deemed to be trustworthy – but the older group was less suspicious of those that the younger participants rated as dishonest.
Brain scans then revealed that a region called the anterior insula – which picks up on gut feelings, including concerns about someone’s integrity – were less active in the older volunteers.
Professor Shelley Taylor of the University of California in Los Angeles said the older group ‘missed facial cues that are pretty easily distinguished’, adding: ‘The older adults do not have as strong an anterior insula early-warning signal; their brains are not saying “be wary”, as the brains of the younger adults are.
Scientists found that older people were less suspicious of of those that younger people rated as dishonest
‘It’s not that younger adults are better at finance or judging whether an investment is good – they’re better at discerning whether a person is trustworthy when cues are communicated visually.’
She added that it is likely that the problem begins from a person’s early to mid-fifties, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
The second study was conducted at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Centre where participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans while looking at the faces. This study included 44 participants: 23 older adults between the ages of 55 and 80 and 21 younger adults.
The younger adults showed anterior insula activation both when they were making the ratings of the faces and especially when viewing the untrustworthy faces. In contrast, the older adults displayed very little anterior insula activation during these activities.
Prof Taylor said: ‘We wanted to find out whether there are differences in how the brain reacts to these faces, and the answer is yes, there are.
‘The older adults do not have as strong an anterior insula early-warning signal; their brains are not saying ‘be wary,’ as the brains of the younger adults are.
‘It’s not that younger adults are better at finance or judging whether an investment is good; they’re better at discerning whether a person is potentially trustworthy when cues are communicated visually.
‘Older adults are more vulnerable. It looks like their skills for making good financial decisions may be deteriorating as early as their early-to-mid-50s.’
She said the prototypical victim of financial fraud is a 55-year-old man who is an experienced investor, adding: ‘It’s people with money, who are comfortable with investing.
‘Somehow they didn’t get the early warning from their brain that said ‘Don’t invest in that movie, don’t buy that land.’ The financial losses can be huge.’
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).