Elderly people are often targeted for scams because of their disposable funds and their percieved gullibility. Are they more gullible? Why?
Stories of kindly grandmothers giving all their money away to nefarious confidence tricksters are unfortunately all too common. Now, researchers have suggested one reason why older people often seem to fall victim to financial fraud – our ability to judge the trustworthiness of people’s faces diminishes with age, finds a US study.
Shelley Taylor, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues examined how people in two age groups perceived photos of faces that had been pre-rated for trustworthiness and approachability. The faces conveyed known cues of trustworthiness, such as a direct gaze and a sincere smile which turns fully upwards towards the eyes.
The results are published [Dec 3] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The older adults rated ‘untrustworthy’ faces as significantly more trustworthy and approachable than did the younger adults. “They missed facial cues that are pretty easily distinguished,” says Taylor. While the the younger adults showed a strong response in the brain region that informs decision-making, the older adults had reduced activity there. It’s not clear if they were not recognizing the signals or if that is a part of the brain whose activity diminishes with age. The researcher suggests that the best remedy to protect people from falling for scams is to limit access to scammers. For example, DON’T talk to these people over the phone. Reject all unsolicited calls. Safe advice for everyone!