Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why are elderly duped? Area in brain where doubt arises changes with age

Date:
August 16, 2012
Source:
University of Iowa
Summary:
Researchers have pinpointed for the first time the area in the human brain where doubt arises. The finding helps explain why older people, as well as others with damage to a specific brain region, are more prone to fall victim to deception and scams.

Patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex were roughly twice as likely to believe a given ad, even when given disclaimer information pointing out it was misleading. And, they were more likely to buy the item, regardless of whether misleading information had been corrected.
Credit: Photo by Bill Adams

Everyone knows the adage: "If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is." Why, then, do some people fall for scams and why are older folks especially prone to being duped?

An answer, it seems, is because a specific area of the brain has deteriorated or is damaged, according to researchers at the University of Iowa. By examining patients with various forms of brain damage, the researchers report they've pinpointed the precise location in the human brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that controls belief and doubt, and which explains why some of us are more gullible than others.

"The current study provides the first direct evidence beyond anecdotal reports that damage to the vmPFC (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) increases credulity. Indeed, this specific deficit may explain why highly intelligent vmPFC patients can fall victim to seemingly obvious fraud schemes," the researchers wrote in the paper published in a special issue of the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

A study conducted for the National Institute of Justice in 2009 concluded that nearly 12 percent of Americans 60 and older had been exploited financially by a family member or a stranger. And, a report last year by insurer MetLife Inc. estimated the annual loss by victims of elder financial abuse at $2.9 billion.

The authors point out their research can explain why the elderly are vulnerable.

"In our theory, the more effortful process of disbelief (to items initially believed) is mediated by the vmPFC, which, in old age, tends to disproportionately lose structural integrity and associated functionality," they wrote. "Thus, we suggest that vulnerability to misleading information, outright deception and fraud in older adults is the specific result of a deficit in the doubt process that is mediated by the vmPFC."

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is an oval-shaped lobe about the size of a softball lodged in the front of the human head, right above the eyes. It's part of a larger area known to scientists since the extraordinary case of Phineas Gage that controls a range of emotions and behaviors, from impulsivity to poor planning. But brain scientists have struggled to identify which regions of the prefrontal cortex govern specific emotions and behaviors, including the cognitive seesaw between belief and doubt.

The UI team drew from its Neurological Patient Registry, which was established in 1982 and has more than 500 active members with various forms of damage to one or more regions in the brain. From that pool, the researchers chose 18 patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and 21 patients with damage outside the prefrontal cortex. Those patients, along with people with no brain damage, were shown advertisements mimicking ones flagged as misleading by the Federal Trade Commission to test how much they believed or doubted the ads. The deception in the ads was subtle; for example, an ad for "Legacy Luggage" that trumpets the gear as "American Quality" turned on the consumer's ability to distinguish whether the luggage was manufactured in the United States versus inspected in the country.

Each participant was asked to gauge how much he or she believed the deceptive ad and how likely he or she would buy the item if it were available. The researchers found that the patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex were roughly twice as likely to believe a given ad, even when given disclaimer information pointing out it was misleading. And, they were more likely to buy the item, regardless of whether misleading information had been corrected.

"Behaviorally, they fail the test to the greatest extent," says Natalie Denburg, assistant professor in neurology who devised the ad tests. "They believe the ads the most, and they demonstrate the highest purchase intention. Taken together, it makes them the most vulnerable to being deceived." She added the sample size is small and further studies are warranted.

Apart from being damaged, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex begins to deteriorate as people reach age 60 and older, although the onset and the pace of deterioration varies, says Daniel Tranel, neurology and psychology professor at the UI and corresponding author on the paper. He thinks the finding will enable doctors, caregivers, and relatives to be more understanding of decision making by the elderly.

"And maybe protective," Tranel adds. "Instead of saying, 'How would you do something silly and transparently stupid,' people may have a better appreciation of the fact that older people have lost the biological mechanism that allows them to see the disadvantageous nature of their decisions."

The finding corroborates an idea studied by the paper's first author, Erik Asp, who wondered why damage to the prefrontal cortex would impair the ability to doubt but not the initial belief as well. Asp created a model, which he called the False Tagging Theory, to separate the two notions and confirm that doubt is housed in the prefrontal cortex.

"This study is strong empirical evidence suggesting that the False Tagging Theory is correct," says Asp, who earned his doctorate in neuroscience from the UI in May and is now at the University of Chicago.

Kenneth Manzel, Bryan Koestner, and Catherine Cole from the UI are contributing authors on the paper. The National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Iowa. The original article was written by Richard C. Lewis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Erik Asp, Kenneth Manzel, Bryan Koestner, Catherine A. Cole, Natalie L. Denburg, Daniel Tranel. A Neuropsychological Test of Belief and Doubt: Damage to Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Increases Credulity for Misleading Advertising. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 2012; 6 DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00100

Cite This Page:

University of Iowa. "Why are elderly duped? Area in brain where doubt arises changes with age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816121836.htm>.
University of Iowa. (2012, August 16). Why are elderly duped? Area in brain where doubt arises changes with age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816121836.htm
University of Iowa. "Why are elderly duped? Area in brain where doubt arises changes with age." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816121836.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: World's Oldest Man Lives in Japan

Raw: World's Oldest Man Lives in Japan

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) A 111-year-old Japanese was certified as the world's oldest man by Guinness World Records on Wednesday. Sakari Momoi, a native of Fukushima in northern Japan, was given a certificate at a hospital in Tokyo. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Freetown a City on Edge

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Freetown a City on Edge

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) Residents of Sierra Leone's capital voice their fears as the Ebola virus sweeps through west Africa. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
101-Year-Old Working Man Has All The Advice You Need

101-Year-Old Working Man Has All The Advice You Need

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) Herman Goldman has worked at the same lighting store for almost 75 years. Find out his secrets to a happy, productive life. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins