Inducing emotions in older adults increases their vulnerability to phony sales pitches, suggests research by psychologists at Stanford University.

With funding from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the AARP Fraud Watch Network, the researchers used laboratory experiments to examine whether inducing excitement and anger impacts susceptibility to fraud.

In older adults, “both excitement and anger increased intention to purchase the items compared to no emotional arousal,” the FINRA Foundation says in a statement announcing the research.

This was not the case in younger adults, where researchers found “no significant differences in intention to purchase, suggesting that heightened emotion did not have an effect on younger adults’ susceptibility.”

Additionally, the believability of advertising and purchase intentions were not significantly related in older adults, the research found. “The findings suggest that older adults’ intention to purchase was not based on perceived credibility, but rather on the emotional states they were experiencing,” FINRA says.

Researchers also found that the direction of the emotional state – positive or negative – didn’t matter, “an indication that both emotional states have a broad influence on older adults’ susceptibility to fraud.”

“Whether the con artist tries to get you caught up in the excitement of potential riches or angry at the thought of past and future losses, the research shows their central tactic is the same and just as effective,” says Dr. Shadel, research lead for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. “Cons are skilled at getting their victims in to a heightened emotional state where you suspend rational thinking and willingly hand over your hard earned money to a crook.”

“This research is a major advance in our understanding of how fraud works. Recognizing the mechanisms of scams helps investors to protect themselves,” adds Gerri Walsh, president of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. “Money is emotional, and managing your emotions around financial decisions is critical to avoiding fraud.”

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