Seniors are often the targets of scam artists, and an intriguing new neurological study may explain why.
Research conducted by a North Carolina State University scientist has found aging brains may be more susceptible to fraudulent claims and misleading marketing.
The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to capture images of the brain while study participants were shown a series of print advertisements – deemed “highly believable,” “moderately deceptive” or “highly deceptive.”
“We did not instruct participants to evaluate the ads,” said lead researcher Dr. Stacy Wood. “We wanted to mimic the passive exposure to advertising that we all experience every day.”
Wood said the scans found several regions of our brains are activated in a two-part process when we are exposed to deceptive ads. During the first stage, researchers saw increased activity in the part of the brain associated with focusing conscious attention. “We found that the more deceptive an advertisement is, the more you are drawn to it,” Wood said, “much as our attention is drawn to potential threats in our environment.”
During the second stage, researchers saw more activity in brain regions associated with reasoning and intuiting the intentions of other people. “What’s interesting here is that the moderately deceptive ads cause more activity during this second stage,” Wood said.
Wood suggested age-related deterioration in both regions of the brain might explain why older people are more likely to fall prey to deceptive ads.
“Now that we’ve identified these stages of brain response, it may help future researchers identify underlying neural reasons why some populations are more prone to fall prey to deceptive ads,” Wood said.