Older people are less upset by the thought of losing money

Older people are less upset by the thought of losing money
Roger Highfield / Telegraph (UK)

Old people may have an inbuilt tendency to be taken in by scams and confidence tricksters, according to psychologists.

A team at Stanford University in California studied how young and old people anticipated winning and losing money, and then reacted when it occurred.

They found that older adults had a different response when it came to losses, said psychologist Gregory Samanez Larkin, one of the team that reports the work in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

They compared adults aged 19–27 years with another group who were over 65 years old as they had their brains scanned by a method called functional magnetic resonance imaging. While both the young and older adults were similarly thrilled at the prospect of an impending gain, the older group had "less negative arousal to anticipated losses."

This lack of fear of losing money was mirrored by activity in a part of brain called the striatum. Activity of this region changed by a similar amount when both young and old anticipated gains but only the young adults showed a change in activity paralleling the amount of anticipated loss.

"We found that older adults responded like younger adults when anticipating uncertain monetary gains," said Samanez Larkin.

"However, when anticipating uncertain losses, younger adults displayed increased brain activation and self-reported distress. Older adults did not. Importantly, both younger and older adults showed a similar response when they actually lost money."

While this asymmetry may increase elders' well-being (since they may worry less about losses that may or may not occur), it may also put them at relative risk for scamming and other scenarios that require caution and concern, he said.