You know how old people are forever getting scammed by totally obvious grifters? Sinking their life savings into pyramid schemes selling Canadian yarn art ("It sells itself"), or putting all their gold in a bag and mailing it to Glenn Beck? Well, it's not because the elderly are a buncha rubes, or that they know less about finance than you or I (in my case, it would literally be impossible)—turns out, their aging brains might be making them less able to spot a scam.
Despite long experience with the ways of the world, older people are especially vulnerable to fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), up to 80% of scam victims are over 65. One explanation may lie in a brain region that serves as a built-in crook detector. Called the anterior insula, this structure-which fires up in response to the face of an unsavory character-is less active in older people, possibly making them less cagey than younger folks, a new study finds.
...In the study, appearing online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the "untrustworthy" faces were perceived as significantly more trustworthy by the older subjects than by the younger ones. The researchers then performed the same test on a different set of volunteers, this time imaging their brains during the process, to look for differences in brain activity between the age groups. In the younger subjects, when asked to judge whether the faces were trustworthy, the anterior insula became active; the activity increased at the sight of an untrustworthy face. The older people, however, showed little or no activation.
I love the idea that we have an actual bullshit detector built into our brains. But what's the evolutionary function of having it shut down once we get past 60? Contentment, maybe?
"Older people are good at regulating their emotions, seeing things in a positive light, and not overreacting to everyday problems," she says. But this trait may make them less wary.
Photo credit: yuri_arcurs / Stockfresh.