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Fraud susceptibility across adulthood: Age, context, and the role of individual differences

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
As rates of fraudulent crime rise globally, understanding fraud susceptibility (FS) is paramount to public interest and safety. Mixed findings exist regarding (a) the effect of older age on FS behaviours and (b) the processes that underlie different behavioural aspects of decision-based susceptibility. Using a mixed ANOVA design with within- and between-subjects factors, we examined relationships between age and decision-based FS behaviours in a community-dwelling sample of younger adults (n = 76, age 17-35, Mage = 20.34, SD = 3.51) and older adults (n = 46, age 59-96, Mage = 74.35, SD = 8.79) on a novel experimental task using real-world stimuli. We employed signal detection theory (SDT), between-subjects (Age Group) ANOVAs and regression analysis to investigate susceptibility as a function of age (young vs. old) and individual differences (neurocognition including, Theory of Mind [ToM], interpersonal trust) while concurrently examining the influence of contextual decision-making factors (deliberation time, decision confidence) on performance. Contrary to our predictions, older adults were significantly less likely to participate in fraudulent offers, F[1,120] = 4.86, p = .029, η2 = .04, and demonstrated stronger ability to detect fraudulent stimuli, F[1,120] = 10.33, p = .002, η2 = .08 than younger adults. While they were also significantly better at discriminating between stimuli types, F(1,120) = 6.42, p = .01, η2 = .05, this performance was accompanied by inflated response bias (i.e., a tendency towards classifying all stimuli as fraudulent/unsafe). Consistent with our predictions, regression modelling suggested that context (deliberation time), ToM, and trust are strong predictors of FS outcomes while other neurocognitive skills are not. Contrary to our predictions, associations between FS and age were not qualified by confidence, which was less relevant to discrimination accuracy than other contextual and social cognitive skills across age groups. In the first study to examine ToM and FS in aging, we demonstrated that older adults are not more susceptible to fraud than younger adults. Further, deliberation time and some socially-based cognitive skills portended FS on an ecologically-valid task. Our findings refute the notion that there is an age-related vulnerability to fraud and suggest that contextual and social decision-making factors appear to be more critical in FS than are other age-sensitive neurocognitive resources.
134 pages.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
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Thesis advisor: Loken, Thornton, Wendy
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