New research indicates that people’s ability to judge the trustworthiness of faces diminishes with age. This could explain why older people are more vulnerable to face-to-face financial scams.
This inference is from a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was led by psychologist Shelley Taylor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
For the study, Shelley showed photos of faces pre-rated for trustworthiness to a group of 119 older people (ages 55-84) and 34 young people (ages 20-42). Whilst both groups were able to perceive faces pre-rated as “trustworthy” or “neutral” as equally trustworthy, the older group considered “untrustworthy” faces significantly more trustworthy than the young group did.
According to Nature, during the study, 44 volunteers were asked to rate faces for trustworthiness as they underwent functional magnetic brain imaging (fMRI). The researchers found that younger adults showed higher activity in an area of the brain called the anterior insula (a brain region associated with “gut feeling” decisions). Older people showed little or no activation in this brain area, suggesting that they do not get the signals that would warn about a potential scammer or confidence trickster. This effect within the brain is not linked to senility, according to the Daily Mail.
The Scientist notes that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has indicated that 80% of financial scam victims are aged over 65. Furthermore, According to insurer MetLife’s Mature Market Institute, as reported by NBC, American seniors lose $2.9 billion a year to fraud. So, there may be something in this research. Nonetheless it is likely that more study of the anterior singular area of the brain would be required.