Research pinpoints brain's 'Gullibility' center

August 24, 2012 By Barbara Bronson Gray, HealthDay Reporter
Research pinpoints brain's 'Gullibility' center
Changes in this region could explain why seniors, children are less doubting.

(HealthDay)—Whether it's an email from an unknown gentleman on another continent pleading for money or a financial scammer selling a promising penny stock, the young and old tend to be more easily duped than middle-aged people.

Now, researchers have pinpointed the area of the brain responsible for this gullibility and have theorized why it makes children, teens and seniors less likely to doubt.

The ventromedial area of the of the brain—a softball-sized lobe in the front of your head, just above your eyes—appears to be responsible for allowing you to pause after hearing or reading something and consider whether it's true, according to a study published recently in the journal Frontiers in .

"When most adults hear or read something, they believe it at first, and begin to process it," explained study author Erik Asp, a researcher in the department of psychology at the University of Chicago who conducted the study while at the University of Iowa. "And then they start asking questions. But we're all susceptible to believing something initially."

In children, the prefrontal is still developing, not reaching full maturity until the late teens or even early 20s. As you age, the brain area responsible for doubting may begin to deteriorate, gradually reducing your propensity to question. The area is the last thing to develop in the brain and may be the first area to begin to show some decline, Asp explained.

"The decline in function is normal. It can happen at 60, 70 or 90," Asp said. "But we found that people with prefrontal cortex damage tend to be less likely to question, more prone to believing and overall have less nuanced thinking."

Asp said it's important to know that signs of gullibility in teens and seniors are biologically based, and not the result of sloppy thinking. "They aren't someone's fault. Knowing it's a natural process may help people anticipate the problem and deal with it effectively," he noted.

In the study, the University of Iowa researchers selected 39 participants from its Neurological Patient Registry and 10 healthy people for comparison. They showed eight consumer ads to 18 people with focal brain damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, 21 people with focal brain damage outside that area, and also to the healthy individuals.

Those with damage to the specific area of the prefrontal cortex were far more vulnerable to being deceived. They were more than twice as likely to believe misleading ads and were more inclined to purchase products advertised in those ads, as compared to those who had damage outside that area of the brain or who were healthy. This happened even when disclaimers saying the ads were misleading were visible.

The size of the damaged areas in the prefrontal cortex did not appear to affect an individual's tendency to doubt.

Asp explained that at the cellular level, cells called oligodendrocytes are responsible for putting myelin around a part of nerve cells called axons. Myelin insulates nerve fibers, not unlike how a household electrical wire insulates power. It permits the rapid transmission of impulses from nerve to nerve. Damage to myelin can cause some neurological diseases.

In the prefrontal cortex, one oligodendrocyte typically supports multiple axons. But in other parts of the brain, such as the posterior cortex, the average oligodendrocyte is only responsible for maintaining the myelin for a few cells.

Researchers theorize that the broader scope and responsibility of these cells in the prefrontal area of the brain has something to do with why there would be a decrease in doubting ability as people age. Understanding these cellular differences could potentially lead to a treatment target, Asp said.

"This research moves the science forward about understanding the mechanics of how people interpret untrue information," said Dr. Paul Sanberg, a distinguished professor in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. "It might make people more understanding of gullibility."

The bottom line, said Jordan Graffman, director of the injury research program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, is that families, friends and caregivers of older adults need to be available to support decision-making. "Being duped is more likely if you're isolated," he said.

Explore further: Why are elderly duped? Researchers explain why

More information: Learn more about your brain at the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.


Related Stories

Why are elderly duped? Researchers explain why

August 16, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Everyone knows the adage: "If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is." Why, then, do some people fall for scams and why are older folks especially prone to being duped?

Regulation of attention and concentration in brain unravelled

August 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- The prefrontal cortex of the brain is involved in memory processes and the ability to concentrate attentively. Neuroscientists from VU University Amsterdam have shown how and where this occurs in the prefrontal ...

Researchers show reduced ability of the aging brain to respond to experience

May 24, 2011
Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have published new data on why the aging brain is less resilient and less capable of learning from life experiences. The findings provide further insight into the cognitive decline ...

How fair sanctions are orchestrated in the brain

October 6, 2011
Civilized human cohabitation requires us to respect elementary social norms. We guarantee compliance with these norms with our willingness to punish norm violations – often even at our own expense. This behavior goes ...

Brain changes may hamper decision-Making in old age

April 17, 2012
(HealthDay) -- The ability to make decisions in new situations declines with age, apparently because of changes in the brain's white matter, a new imaging study says.

Recommended for you

Team constructs whole-brain map of electrical connections key to forming memories

November 22, 2017
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania has constructed the first whole-brain map of electrical connectivity in the brain based on data from nearly 300 neurosurgical patients with electrodes implanted ...

To forget or to remember? Memory depends on subtle brain signals, scientists find

November 22, 2017
The fragrance of hot pumpkin pie can bring back pleasant memories of holidays past, while the scent of an antiseptic hospital room may cause a shudder. The power of odors to activate memories both pleasing and aversive exists ...

New research suggests high-intensity exercise boosts memory

November 22, 2017
The health advantages of high-intensity exercise are widely known but new research from McMaster University points to another major benefit: better memory.

Pitch imperfect? How the brain decodes pitch may improve cochlear implants

November 22, 2017
Picture yourself with a friend in a crowded restaurant. The din of other diners, the clattering of dishes, the muffled notes of background music, the voice of your friend, not to mention your own – all compete for your ...

What if consciousness is not what drives the human mind?

November 22, 2017
Everyone knows what it feels like to have consciousness: it's that self-evident sense of personal awareness, which gives us a feeling of ownership and control over the thoughts, emotions and experiences that we have every ...

Now you like it, now you don't: Brain stimulation can change how much we enjoy and value music

November 20, 2017
Enjoyment of music is considered a subjective experience; what one person finds gratifying, another may find irritating. Music theorists have long emphasized that although musical taste is relative, our enjoyment of music, ...

8 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MIBO
not rated yet Aug 25, 2012
all they had to do was examine the brains of people who go to church and compare them to normal brains.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2012
all they had to do was examine the brains of people who go to church and compare them to normal brains.
Depends what people go to church for, in my case it might be seeking out the odd femme fatale or singing practice, certainly not to look at some person proselytising when the god they claim exists is such a bad communicator and is guilty of setting up so many situations where people can only fail !

ie. If any deity is a real god then they know the future long before they would take any action therefore, it was known a fallen angel would become a devil & cause suffering.

Any honest parent can see the story of genesis is a setup, tell a child not to do something *and* show them where the forbidden thing actually is then the result is predictable.

Yes, adam & eve were children, in that part of the world girls can marry at puberty - that makes them children. Instead of some stupid parent punishing. A god should so easily educate & been present to guide during crucial moments !
gwrede
not rated yet Aug 25, 2012
Oh, boy. I see even this thread detached from science.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2012
The idea of gullibility is far too simply embraced in this article. In fact, there are many associated factors that can spur an individual, even middle aged, to wholesale unquestioning acceptance. One if fear, another is limited intellect but a sense of arrogance that keeps them from admitting that there are things they don't know. Both were tapped, for example, in manufacturing the "war on 'terror'". Certainly, no small number of infinitely self absorbed individuals didn't spend any time thnking that "terrorists" had never tried anything like that before, that such a move did little good but could summon great retribution against the perpetrators, and that no real proof had been provided that there were "terrorists" on the plane. The dull witted also failed to see that but because they couldn't think beyond the end of their nose. And huge numebr in borth groups bought the New World Order lie because it gave them someone to hate rayther than themselves for being failures!
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2012
So Mike Massen sets themself up to judge the actions of the Creator of all. Drill sergeants also set up situations where individuals can fail. Does that mean drill sergenats don't exist, either? An Australian aborigine doesn't understand a compass they see a European using. Does that mean the compass and the European don't exist? Crooked school boards who want untrained relatives on the public dole as "teachers" trundle the scam of "Don't tell them the right answer, have them ask the right question." When did Mike Massen ever criticize that? Or does Mike Massen only attack God, believing God won't retaliate? And the fact is, when you act out of utter scrupulousness, compassion and personal perfection, you do see God's words and actions.
technodiss
not rated yet Aug 25, 2012
kinda makes you wonder if the study even took place or if the posted results are even true. maybe we are part of this study, testing the critical thinking skills of those that read scientific publications.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2012
Hmm. So if I am prone to believe that this research might be used to manipulate the gullibility of unaware consumers, I would be exhibiting a sign of inferred damage to my very own ventromedial prefrontal cortex. A rather knotty dilemma...
JRDarby
1 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2012
Interestingly, the same area is affected by scopolamine. Google Burundanga Colombia Scopolamine.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.