WELLINGTON, May 27 — New Zealand psychologists have conducted a study that could help explain why older people might be more susceptible to con artists and scams than younger people.
Psychologists from the University of Otago have found that older people cannot lie as convincingly as younger people and are worse at detecting lies.
Department of Psychology researchers compared young and older adults' skills at deception as judged by listeners within and outside their age group.
The study involved 60 participants being shown video clips of 20 people expressing their actual or false views on topical issues such as factory farming and stem cell use in humans, said a statement from the university Friday.
Ten of the speakers were aged 30 or under and 10 were 60 or over. Two clips of each speaker were shown: one in which they were lying, and the other being truthful.
The 60 listeners, who consisted of two equal-sized groups with average ages of 21 and 71, were asked to determine if the person in each clip was being truthful or lying. They also underwent tests that required judgments of emotional expression and age in faces.
Associate Professor Jamin Halberstadt said the results showed that both young and older listeners found it easier to differentiate truths and lies when the speaker was an older adult compared to a young adult.
"It could be that older people are less convincing liars because the kinds of cognitive abilities required for successful deceit are also those that tend to deteriorate with age," he said in the statement.
Lying placed demands on memory and planning ability, such as formulating a plausible argument and keeping story facts straight, as well as on social understanding, such as judging whether a particular argument would convince a listener and keeping track of a listener's response as the lie unfolded.
"In our study, we also found that older participants in the lie detection test were not as good as their younger counterparts at differentiating between lies and truths," said Halberstadt.
The research team also examined an idea proposed by previous researchers that recognizing brief flashes of negative facial emotions such as guilt, fear or disgust, known as "micro-expressions," played a key role in detecting lies. They showed participants images of faces displaying one of six different types of emotion, varying the duration of the images on the computer screen.
"While emotion recognition ability explained the difference in lie detection between young and older adults, there was no particular advantage associated with correctly identifying facial emotions displayed for the shorter times. These results suggest that recognizing micro-expressions is perhaps not necessarily key to detecting deceitfulness after all," said Halberstadt.
Liars could well be sending out detectable signals with some emotional content, but it was unknown if these revolved solely around facial expressions, and they did not necessarily leak out only briefly.
"Emotion recognition also involves auditory and body-language aspects, so the giveaway signals might additionally, or instead, be heard in the voice or seen in emotions expressed through the body," said Halberstadt.
"We still don't know what exactly allows listeners to correctly detect lies, although we know that people can differentiate lies and truth at a rate above chance level – though they are far from perfect."
Halberstadt said that it would be interesting to study whether older adults' difficulties telling and detecting lies affected their susceptibility to fraud schemes and their general social well-being.
"As well as problems arising from being more easily deceived, a reduced ability to tell white lies that spare others' feelings may impair their relationships, for example."
Research team member Janice Murray presented the findings Friday at the Association of Psychological Science's annual convention in the US capital, Washington, D.C. The team's findings are also being published in the US journal Psychology and Aging. (PNA/Xinhua) vcs/utb