Emotional arousal may increase susceptibility to fraud in older and younger adults

Katharina Kircanski, Nanna Notthoff, Marguerite DeLiema, Gregory R. Samanez-Larkin, Doug Shadel, Gary Mottola, Laura L. Carstensen, Ian H. Gotlib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-337
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this study was provided through the Financial Fraud Research Center by AARP and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. Gregrory R. Samanez-Larkin was supported by US National Institute on Aging Grant R00-AG042596 and Laura L. Carstensen was supported by US National Institute on Aging Grant R37-AG08816. We thank Natalie Denburg for providing us with her collection of misleading advertisements and advertisement rating scales used in this study. We also thank Mary Kate Smith and Meghan Goyer for their contributions to data collection and preprocessing. Last, we thank Martha Deevy of the Stanford Center on Longevity and Christine Kieffer of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation for their assistance and consultation throughout the study. Some of the ideas and data appearing in this article were presented in the State of Financial Fraud in America conference, November 30, 2016, Washington, DC. Some of these ideas and data also were presented in a Stanford Center on Longevity (SCL) Issue Brief, posted on the SCL website and Social Science Research Network.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Psychological Association.


  • Aging
  • Arousal
  • Emotion
  • Financial fraud
  • Persuasion


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