Emotional Arousal May Increase Susceptibility to Fraud in Older and Younger Adults

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Abstract

Financial fraud is a societal problem for adults of all ages, but financial losses are especially damaging to older adults who typically live on fixed incomes and have less time to recoup losses. Persuasion tactics used by fraud perpetrators often elicit high levels of emotional arousal; thus, studying emotional arousal may help to identify the conditions under which individuals are particularly susceptible to fraud. We examined whether inducing high-arousal positive (HAP) and high-arousal negative (HAN) emotions increased susceptibility to fraud. Older (ages 65 to 85) and younger (ages 30 to 40) adults were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 emotional arousal conditions in a laboratory task: HAP, HAN, or low arousal (LA). Fraud susceptibility was assessed through participants’ responses to misleading advertisements. Both HAP and HAN emotions were successfully induced in older and younger participants. For participants who exhibited the intended induced emotional arousal, both the HAP and HAN conditions, relative to the LA condition, significantly increased participants’ reported intention to purchase falsely advertised items. These effects did not differ significantly between older and younger adults and were mitigated in participants who did not exhibit the intended emotional arousal. However, irrespective of the emotional arousal condition to which older adults were assigned (HAP, HAN, or LA), they reported greater purchase intention than did younger adults. These results inform the literature on fraud susceptibility and aging. Educating consumers to postpone financial decisions until they are in calm emotional states may protect against this common persuasion tactic.

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