As people grow old, they tend to concentrate more on the positive. As a result, they may be more likely to get ripped off.
The quest to understand why the elderly fall for scams has long focused on their cognitive decline, particularly with diseases such as Alzheimer's or dementia. But now scientists are looking for that answer elsewhere: in the so-called socio-emotional shifts in the brain that unfold as we age.
"We're less likely to pay attention to the negative," said Nathan Spreng, director of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at Cornell University's Department of Human Development. "We're not as vigilant against threat."
When Spreng read a Journal of General Internal Medicine study on elder abuse in New York that found more than half of financial exploitation is carried out by a person the victim knew, he wondered: Just how well are older adults navigating the complexities of their social environment?
"It wasn't necessarily the spammer from Nigeria," he said. "It's far more prevalent that it's your grandson or daughter-in-law."