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Neural and behavioral bases of age differences in perceptions of trust

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Abstract

Older adults are disproportionately vulnerable to fraud, and federal agencies have speculated that excessive trust explains their greater vulnerability. Two studies, one behavioral and one using neuroimaging methodology, identified age differences in trust and their neural underpinnings. Older and younger adults rated faces high in trust cues similarly, but older adults perceived faces with cues to untrustworthiness to be significantly more trustworthy and approachable than younger adults. This age-related pattern was mirrored in neural activation to cues of trustworthiness. Whereas younger adults showed greater anterior insula activation to untrustworthy versus trustworthy faces, older adults showed muted activation of the anterior insula to untrustworthy faces. The insula has been shown to support interoceptive awareness that forms the basis of "gut feelings," which represent expected risk and predict risk-avoidant behavior. Thus, a diminished "gut" response to cues of untrustworthiness may partially underlie older adults' vulnerability to fraud.
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... These previous neuroimaging studies, however, have comprised young adults only, but there is emerging evidence of age-related differences in face trustworthiness evaluation, in that older adults may rate faces overall as more trustworthiness than young adults (Zebrowitz et al., 2013. This age effect was particularly pronounced for untrustworthy-looking faces, while young and older adults gave comparable ratings for trustworthy-looking faces (Castle et al., 2012;Zebrowitz et al., 2017;Cassidy et al., 2019; see Bailey and Leon, 2019 for a meta-analysis). This observation is consistent with findings that advanced age was associated with decreased sensitivity to deceptive cues (Ruffman et al., 2012;Frazier et al., 2021; see also Ebner et al., 2022, for a summary) and evidence of an age-related positivity effect (i.e., observed in the form of reduced negativity/increased positivity in older vs. young adults' attention and memory; Carstensen et al., 2011;Pehlivanoglu and Verhaeghen, 2019;Ziaei et al., 2019Ziaei et al., , 2021. ...
... Previous studies have reported comparable findings (i.e., relatively more favorable ratings for untrustworthy-looking faces from older than young adults; Castle et al., 2012;Zebrowitz et al., 2017;Cassidy et al., 2019; see also Bailey et al., 2016). Our study importantly qualifies this previous work by demonstrating that higher trustworthiness ratings were only given for somewhat untrustworthy-looking faces, but not for very untrustworthylooking faces. ...
... In fact, supporting this interpretation, ambivalent information requires rather complex cognitive operations such as interference resolution (e.g., attending to specific aspects of a stimulus while ignoring (salient) other aspects; Stanley and Blanchard-Fields, 2008;O'Connor et al., 2019). Given age-related decline in working memory (Pehlivanoglu et al., 2014; for a meta-analysis see, Bopp and Verhaeghen, 2007) combined with age-related reduction in sensitivity to deceptive cues (Castle et al., 2012) and an increased positivity effect with age (Carstensen and Mikels, 2005), older participants may have had difficulty in focusing on cues of untrustworthiness while filtering out cues of trustworthiness in ambiguously untrustworthy-looking faces. In line with this explanation, other studies showed that older compared to young adults used fewer negative words to describe ambiguous scenarios (Juang and Knight, 2016;Mikels and Shuster, 2016) and gave more positive evaluations to ambiguous facial expressions (i.e., surprise; Neta and Tong, 2016;Neta et al., 2018). ...
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The amygdala has been shown to be responsive to face trustworthiness. While older adults typically give higher face trustworthiness ratings than young adults, a direct link between amygdala response and age-related differences in face trustworthiness evaluation has not yet been confirmed. Additionally, there is a possible modulatory role of the neuropeptide oxytocin in face trustworthiness evaluation, but the results are mixed and effects unexplored in aging. To address these research gaps, young, and older adults were randomly assigned to oxytocin or placebo self-administration via a nasal spray before rating faces on trustworthiness while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. There was no overall age-group difference in face trustworthiness ratings, but older compared to young participants gave higher trustworthiness ratings to ambivalently untrustworthy-looking faces. In both age groups, lower face trustworthiness ratings were associated with higher left amygdala activity. A comparable negative linear association was observed in right amygdala but only among young participants. Also, in the right amygdala, lower and higher, compared to moderate, face trustworthiness ratings were associated with greater right amygdala activity (i.e., positive quadratic (U-shaped) association) for both age groups. Neither the behavioral nor the brain effects were modulated by a single dose of intranasal oxytocin administration, however. These results suggest dampened response to faces with lower trustworthiness among older compared to young adults, supporting the notion of reduced sensitivity to cues of untrustworthiness in aging. The findings also extend evidence of an age-related positivity effect to the evaluation of face trustworthiness.
... Trust behaviors toward others seem to increase with age (e.g., Alesina and La Ferrara, 2002). Older adults tend to trust more frequently in people with a reputation of being untrustworthy than young adults (e.g., Bailey et al., 2015; although see Sutter and Kocher, 2007), which makes them more vulnerable to subsequent exploitation and fraud (e.g., Castle et al., 2012). Accordingly, studies based on facial trustworthiness evaluations report that even though there is a high agreement on the ratings provided by older and young adults, the former tend to perceive faces as more trustworthy (Castle et al., 2012;Cassidy et al., 2019). ...
... Older adults tend to trust more frequently in people with a reputation of being untrustworthy than young adults (e.g., Bailey et al., 2015; although see Sutter and Kocher, 2007), which makes them more vulnerable to subsequent exploitation and fraud (e.g., Castle et al., 2012). Accordingly, studies based on facial trustworthiness evaluations report that even though there is a high agreement on the ratings provided by older and young adults, the former tend to perceive faces as more trustworthy (Castle et al., 2012;Cassidy et al., 2019). These studies used a relatively small number of faces and collected a relatively small number of ratings per age group. ...
... In particular, as put forth in CISDA, decisions about deception involve reasoning about the intentions of others, requiring theory of mind in one-to-one social interactions (Beadle et al., 2012). Extending this model to social communication via news, analytical reasoning is required when assessing others' true intentions through news media communication (Bronstein et al., 2019; and may buffer the impact of age-related decline in other cognitive functions on deception detection (e.g., sensitivity to cues of untrustworthiness; Castle et al., 2012;Frazier et al., 2021). Under CISDA, affect refers to the interpretation of stimuli and contexts to align with one's affective state and motivational goals; with evidence supporting that aging is associated with prioritization of emotional goals (Carstensen & DeLiema, 2018;Pehlivanoglu & Verhaeghen, 2019). ...
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... The moderated interaction of OT and age extended to volunteering as well. Seniors have been shown to volunteer more often than younger people (Castle et al., 2012;Sze et al., 2012;Wiles and Jayasinha, 2013;Beadle et al., 2015;Matsumoto et al., 2016). The parametric relationship for volunteering along with the other prosocial behaviors, reveals the strength of the relationship of OT and age. ...
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... The protocol includes toxicity regulation, exercise, diet, sleep and stress -all factors that are affected by a person's environment e.g., noise and pollution levels, availability of fresh foods, walkability and safety of neighbourhoods. If successful at the clinical trial stage this approach would represent a major breakthrough for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases where pharmaceutical interventions have failed.Age effects of cognitive embodiment are also proving to be important in social interactions; evidence shows that older people have an increased perception of trust(Castle et al., 2012) ...
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Within geography, situated, contextualised and contingent embodiment is a central theme in Non‐Representational Theory, mobility theories, feminist, affective and emotional geographies. Despite this focus on the body, engagement with the strong embodiment hypotheses emerging out of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy has been limited to only selective theoretical borrowings with practically no attention given to the burgeoning empirical evidence of the relationship between body, mind and environment. While the neural turn within the discipline has been acknowledged, the flow of influence is deemed as largely unidirectional, where ‘brain culture’ pays scant attention to the contingencies of spatial lives (Pykett, 2018). At the same time, geographers have been critical of the universalising tendencies and narrow empiricism of neuroscience. This paper advocates for a rapprochement between geography and neuroscience following Barad’s (2007) agential realist approach. Using the geographies of ageing as a case that has relevance across the discipline, cognitive embodiments are understood as body‐mind‐environment assemblages that continuously co‐constitute material difference, constraint and possibility for bodies as they age. A focus on recent studies of embodied ageing which show cognition to be both embodied and inherently spatial is used to inspire a critical neuro‐geography which rethinks ageing in place, age‐friendly cities, and age‐related public health interventions, such as those for the COVID‐19 crisis. The paper aims to inspire further critical neuro‐geographies that think through body‐mind‐environment assemblages and material‐discursive intra‐actions without separating mind/body or nature/culture.
... Additionally, older adults are more likely to trust others. They tend to perceive sellers or persuaders as trustworthy and judge a product according to their impression of the seller rather than the product itself (Castle et al., 2012;Ruffman et al., 2012). Correspondingly, we can infer that older adults may be more concerned about social cues and other people's attention. ...
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... In particular, as put forth in CISDA, decisions about deception involve reasoning about the intentions of others, requiring theory of mind in one-to-one social interactions (Beadle et al., 2012). Extending this model to social communication via news, analytical reasoning is required when assessing others' true intentions through news media communication (Bronstein et al., 2019; and may buffer the impact of age-related decline in other cognitive functions on deception detection (e.g., sensitivity to cues of untrustworthiness; Castle et al., 2012;Frazier et al., 2021). Under CISDA, affect refers to the interpretation of stimuli and contexts to align with one's affective state and motivational goals; with evidence supporting that aging is associated with prioritization of emotional goals (Carstensen & DeLiema, 2018;Pehlivanoglu & Verhaeghen, 2019). ...
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