By examining patients with various forms of brain damage, the researchers report they’ve pinpointed the precise location in the human brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that controls belief and doubt, and which explains why some of us are more gullible than others.
The UI team drew from its Neurological Patient Registry, which was established in 1982 and has more than 500 active members with various forms of damage to one or more regions in the brain. From that pool, the researchers chose 18 patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and 21 patients with damage outside the prefrontal cortex. Those patients, along with people with no brain damage, were shown advertisements mimicking ones flagged as misleading by the Federal Trade Commission to test how much they believed or doubted the ads. The deception in the ads was subtle; for example, an ad for “Legacy Luggage” that trumpets the gear as “American Quality” turned on the consumer’s ability to distinguish whether the luggage was manufactured in the United States versus inspected in the country.
Each participant was asked to gauge how much he or she believed the deceptive ad and how likely he or she would buy the item if it were available. The researchers found that the patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex were roughly twice as likely to believe a given ad, even when given disclaimer information pointing out it was misleading. And, they were more likely to buy the item, regardless of whether misleading information had been corrected.
Apart from being damaged, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex begins to deteriorate as people reach age 60 and older, although the onset and the pace of deterioration varies, says Daniel Tranel, neurology and psychology professor at the UI and corresponding author on the paper. He thinks the finding will enable doctors, caregivers, and relatives to be more understanding of decision making by the elderly.
“And maybe protective,” Tranel adds. “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.”
Tip: The Consumerist
Hoping Dr. Steve Novella comes out with something on this. It seems like a small study since only 39 patients were evaluated. The change in brain function is interesting but I still question whether changing times and environment has something to do with it. I can’t say if they addressed that. It’s hard to keep up with scammers new tricks regardless of how old you are.