Why do the elderly support politicians who want to do away with Medicare and Social Security? Scientists say this is because a specific area of the brain has deteriorated or is damaged.
By examining patients with various forms of brain damage, researchers have 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 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. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex begins to deteriorate as people reach age 60 and older, although the onset and the pace of deterioration varies. And oldsters are vulnerable in other ways than politics: A study conducted for the National Institute of Justice in 2009 concluded that nearly 12% 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.
In a recent study paper, the researchers write: "The current study provides the first direct evidence beyond anecdotal reports that damage to the vmPFC increases credulity. Indeed, this specific deficit may explain why highly intelligent patients can fall victim to seemingly obvious fraud schemes.
"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. 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 location of the part of the brain indicates that bad judgment could be facilitated by a blow to the head, such as in an accident (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to these shows). Some sports, such as football or boxing, could also lead to this problem.