Elderly people less able to process cues of social threat

Besides physical abuse, financial fraud is the fastest-growing form of elder abuse.

In the United States, financial fraud costs about US$50 billion (S$68 billion) a year, and the targets are disproportionately people above the age of 65.

According to data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, older respondents are 34 per cent more likely to have lost money than respondents in their 40s.

Why are older adults more likely to fall for scams?

According to socio-emotional selectivity theory, it is the assessment of time left in life that results in a shift of goals and motivation.

For older adults, as the end of life approaches and concerns about the future diminish, they become less focused on knowledge-related goals. An increased orientation towards the present emphasises goals related to maintaining well-being, emotional satisfaction and meaning.

A large body of psychological literature indicates that older adults have a bias for the positive aspects of information and a diminished receptiveness towards the negative aspects.

This means that older adults' judgments of the trustworthiness of others may be skewed in a positive direction.

Psychological studies reveal that older adults are associated with higher levels of trust towards others and more generous financial offers to others.

The elderly also perceive faces conveying cues of untrustworthiness as more trustworthy and approachable than younger adults do.

Therefore, one reason that older adults are more vulnerable to exploitation or abuse might be that they fail to process cues of social threat.

Hence, it would be good to remind our older friends and family members not to overly trust strangers.

Huang Yi (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Elderly people less able to process cues of social threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe