It happens at least once a week — I open up my email and find in my inbox a message from an older family member, always a forward, containing a warning about the dire warning about the crumbling economy, the threat from various terrorist organizations, and computer virus warnings. My reaction is always the same — I go to a fact checking website and find a link to a page that refutes the e-mail entirely and send it as a response. I wondered how it could be that the e-mails keep coming and how the forwards are not questioned for validity before being sent. It is possible that it is related to gullibility which scientists have located in the brain and moreover have determined that people in two age ranges are more gullible. Those are young people and older people.
I can certainly vouch for the young people aspect — when I was younger, I believed all kinds of things that I would never fall for now. A woman told me that she could get the children’s book manuscript that I had written published and she disappeared with a copy of it, never to be heard from again. We also have a bit of a trick with Chaim when he wants to drink what we are drinking — we tip our drinks toward his sippy cup and pretend that we are pouring it in.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for that bit of time after which we read something or hear a bit of information and we pause to consider whether it is possible that the information we are receiving could be false. In the young, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed and therefore there is greater gullibility. As we age and particularly as we head into our sixties, seventies, and beyond, the function of the prefrontal cortex begins to decline. As the function declines, of course, so too the gullibility increases. In addition to age, damage to the prefrontal cortex can also lead to increased gullibility.
The next time you find yourself wondering why you seem to get e-mails about President Obama being a Kenyan born Muslim from certain age groups, you will know perhaps why this is the case.