The elderly have long been desirable prey for scammers — but why? Is it because they’re perceived as lonely or their access to disposable income? A group of scientists have introduced a new theory in a study of older people that says it’s just because our gullibility detectors simply get worn down as we age.
They’re not called gullibility detectors, per se, but the study did research a certain part of our brain that controls belief and doubt, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, notes Business Insider. This spot is right above our eyes and deteriorates as we grow older. The more worn down it is, the less able we are to detect if something is a scam, even if it’s staring us right in our ventromedial prefrontal cortexes.
Researchers at the University of Iowa studied a group of patients with damage to that area, others with damage outside of it and then patients with no damage. Subjects were shown ads that were similar to ones the Federal Trade Commission deemed misleading, to see whether they’d believe what they were being sold.
Participants were asked how much they believed the deceptive ad, and whether or not they’d go for it if they could. Those with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex were about twice as likely to believe the ads, even if there was disclaimer information that made it pretty clear that it was misleading. They were also more likely to buy the item.
The researchers wrote:
“In our theory, the more effortful process of disbelief (to items initially believed) is mediated by the vmPFC, which, in old age, tends to disproportionately lose structural integrity and associated functionality. Thus, we suggest that vulnerability to misleading information, outright deception and fraud in older adults is the specific result of a deficit in the doubt process that is mediated by the vmPFC.”
One of the authors of the study made a good point — knowing this, perhaps we’ll be less likely to be so harsh on elderly people when they do fall for scams.
“Instead of saying, ‘How would you do something silly and transparently stupid,’ people may have a better appreciation of the fact that older people have lost the biological mechanism that allows them to see the disadvantageous nature of their decisions.”
In other words, don’t be such a brat to your grandmother or father when they’re showing off the new limited-edition set of collectible troll dolls they just bought that are a “great investment.” You might be there one day, too.
Scientists Discovered Why It’s So Easy To Scam Old People [Business Insider]