Editorial on Gullibility of Seniors to Scams
Gullibility is defined as:
“… a failure of social intelligence in which a person is easily tricked or manipulated into an ill advised course of action.”
As will be shown, elders trust even dishonest people.
The Most Recent Studies on the Elderly Brain
- Easier to Scam Old Folks
Two studies show that the aging brain is not able to process scams or misleading information. Professor Shelley Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles conducted one of the studies. The study data showed that a section of the brain known as the anterior insula makes the elderly are more susceptible to becoming victims of scams.
Seniors are Less Likely to Doubt or Process Visually Deceptive Information
This study data and a survey carried out earlier in the year by the University of Iowa researchers was telling. It showed that aging of the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex leads to a lesser ability to process both skepticism and doubt in visual information.
The Study Itself
The study conducted by Professor Taylor involved 119 elderly residents of a senior living home, who ranged between the ages of 55 and 84. So here, subjects saw photographs of natural or trustworthy faces. Next, they saw pictures of faces that were non-trustworthy. These were pictures of people smiling without the eyes lit-up, shifty gazes, and facial hair. Consequently, the participants were asked to rate the level of trustworthiness.
These same photographs were handed to a group of 24 staff members and students, who were between the ages of 20 and 42. Both groups had equal ratings reported for the real or neutral faces; the difference was evident with the elderly participants when assessing the untrustworthy photos.
So here, the elders were incapable of seeing the visual clues in the untrustworthy photos. Consequently, the research expanded into MRI machine monitoring. Also, the study included 23 senior citizens and 24 staff and students, who saw the same photos. As a result, testing led to the discovery that the anterior insula in the younger group became very active. Conversely, the anterior insula of elderly participants was barely active.
The “Gut Reaction” Part of the Brain
The “gut reaction,” part of the brain alarms you of the ill-at-ease feelings and stress people feel about difficult decisions, ideas, places, and people. UCLA researchers believe the lack of activity in the anterior insula causes the elderly not to notice behaviors or signals with scams. Yet, younger people have no problem picking up on these red flags. Also, this study adds to published data by University of Iowa researchers in August of 2012.
- This study compared the ability to categorize information that was misleading in people that were elderly or who had damage from injuries to the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, (vmPFC).
- This organ is a softball-sized section of the brain. It remains located above the eyes. And it controls emotions and behaviors. And these are related to the ability to feel doubt and skepticism. Plus, it is related to your impulse control.
And during this study, there were 18 patients with damage to the vmPFC and 21 patients with brain injury, but good vmPFC’s. But 21 patients had healthy brains. Patients saw advertisements deemed misleading by the Federal Trade Commission.
Remarkably, elders were twice as likely to fall for the misleading ads. And this remained true even if the ads included a disclaimer about the validity of the information. Also, the National Institute for Justice conducted a study in 2009. Of particular concern, that study showed around 12% of those over 60 were financially scammed. In 2011 Met Life Inc.’s report rated the annual loss of exploited elderly citizens around 2.9 billion dollars.
This Is Not News to Most Experienced Nursing Abuse Lawyers
As an elder abuse and nursing abuse lawyer, I did not need a study like this to tell me what has been evident in my law office practice for years now on end. Also, most of my colleagues agree. In fact, recent cases of elder financial abuse (click here) already prove that shady characters target seniors. The problem is that many of the abusers are people with a special duty of care and trust over their elder wards.
Because it is so easy to scam the elder, society as a whole must remain vigilant. And that laws already on the books need aggressive enforcement. To learn more about protecting them, contact Ehline Law Firm at 633 West 5th Street #2890 Los Angeles, CA 90071. (213) 596-9642.