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Editorial on Gullibility of Seniors to Scams

Ambulance Chasing Lawyer
Personal injury lawyer winks as she signs a gullible client.

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.”

(read more.)

In this editorial by Michael P. Ehline, Esq., of Ehline Law Firm we discuss how elder abuse is increased. Mainly it is because the elderly are scientifically proven to trust even those people who are dishonest. And some even trust bad information.

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. One of these psychological studies was conducted by Professor Shelley Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles. 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 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. During the study, the participants were shown photographs of natural or trustworthy faces, and then pictures of faces were non-trustworthy. These were pictures of people smiling without the eyes lit-up, shifty gazes, and facial hair. 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 true or neutral faces; the difference was evident with the elderly participants when assessing the untrustworthy photos.

The elderly group was found to be incapable of seeing the visual clues in the untrustworthy photos. The research was expanded with monitoring inside of an MRI machine, which included 23 senior citizens and 24 staff and students, who saw the same photos. The testing led to the discovery that the anterior insula in the younger group became very active while in the elderly participants, it was barely active.

The “Gut Reaction” Part of the Brain

This section of the brain is responsible for what is known as “gut reactions,” the ill-at-easy feelings and stress that people feel when making a difficult decision, to ideas, places, and people. UCLA researchers believe the lack of activity in the anterior insula is what causes the elderly to be unable to notice behaviors or signals with scams that younger people have no problem picking up on. This study adds to the data that was published on this topic 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 is a softball sized section of the brain, which is located above the eyes and controls emotions and behaviors, related to the ability to feel doubt, skepticism, and is related to impulse control. During this study, there were 18 patients with damage to the vmPFC and 21 patients with brain injury, but good vmPFC’s, along with 21 patients that had healthy brains.

They were shown advertisements, which had been deemed misleading by the Federal Trade Commission. The results using the series of advertisements showed the patients with damage to the vmPFC. These people were twice as likely to fall for the misleading ads, even if the ads included a disclaimer about the validity of the information.
The National Institute for Justice, in 2009 conducted a study, which found that approximately 12 percent of people over the age of 60 have been involved in financial scams. In 2011 Met Life Inc. rated the annual loss of exploited elderly citizens to be about $2.9 billion dollars in a report.

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 obvious in my law office practice for years now on end. Most of my colleagues agree. Recent cases of elder financial abuse (click here) already prove that seniors are targets of shady characters. The problem is that many of the abusers are people with a special duty of care and trust over their elder wards.

In any event, it is clear that older folks are more easily scammed. All the more reason why society as a whole needs to be vigilant, and that laws already on the books need aggressive enforcement. To learn more, contact Ehline Law Firm at 633 West 5th Street #2890 Los Angeles, CA 90071. (213) 596-9642.


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Ehline Law Firm
Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC

633 W 5th St #2890
Los Angeles, CA 90071

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