An ancient warning system in the brain fails to fire in older people making them especially vulnerable to fraud, finds a US study.
The brain region called the anterior insula is activated when young adults look at pictures of untrustworthy faces, but fails to respond when older adults see the pictures, reports Professor Shelley Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Older adults asked to rate pictures of faces as trustworthy, neutral or untrustworthy, tend not to spot untrustworthy faces, Taylor and her team write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The findings could go some way to explaining why elderly people in the US lose $2.9 billion per year in financial scams and swindles, says Taylor.
The study, comparing 119 older people from a retirement village aged between 55-84 with 24 university students and staff aged 20-42, found the older adults were not more trusting across the board. The two groups gave equal ratings when looking at trustworthy or neutral faces.
It was when looking at untrustworthy faces that the older people slipped up – consistently failing to spot the warning signs that stood out to younger people.