Current Project

The Psychology of Mass Market Scams (MMS)
Mass Marketing scams (MMS) extract an enormous financial, social, and physical toll on millions of individuals across the globe.  Yet, there is limited understanding of what factors contribute to an individual’s likelihood to respond to these solicitations.  To address this gap, we have begun a new line of research designed to better understand the tactics used in MMS by the perpetrators as well as individual differences in susceptibility.  We have several projects in this line of research including an analysis of risk assessment, vulnerability in older adults, and interventions to decrease consumers’ risk to these scams.

Past Projects

Identification of Risk and Preventive Factors for Elder Financial Exploitation
Financial elder exploitation (FE) is an increasing problem for vulnerable elders exploited by opportunists and for the social service and criminal justice system designed to protect them. According to a recent New York Times editorial; “the cost (of FE) , on top of the human suffering, is immense: in stolen and squandered savings; the strain on the court system from abusive guardianships; the cost to Medicare and Medicaid from fraud; and from the care of fleeced victims who end up destitute in nursing homes” (NYT March 16, 2011). FE has been defined as the illegal or improper use of vulnerable adults’ funds or property for another person’s profit or advantage (AARP, 2006; NCEA 1998). Basic research into the understanding of FE has been lacking until recently, in part because of difficulties in accurately defining and measuring FE, which can be challenging (Conrad et al., 2010). Recent work in the development of tools to track FE may allow for a more rigorous study of the specific cognitive changes that may increase risk to FE and the interaction between cognitive variables and other psychological variables that may increase susceptibility to FE. Further, we plan to examine variables that may be protective in a unique retirement community that emphasizes social engagement.

Medicare and Mouselab Project
For many years, people ages 65 and older have been able to purchase long-term care insurance from a private insurance company, to cover services that are not paid for by Medicare. In addition, beginning in 2006, people ages 65 and older who are covered by Medicare became eligible to purchase insurance coverage that pays for some of the costs of prescription drugs, also through private insurance companies. Mouselab is an online decision-style task designed to simulate the real-world Medicare choice environment. In this study, we are interested in how people make decisions when choosing insurance for prescription drug coverage and insurance for long-term care. A set of cognitive batteries is also administered to investigate relationships between decision-making and cognitive abilities.

Preferred Number of Options and Emotional Regulation Project
This is a sub-project of the Medicare and Mouselab Project. Through questionnaires, participants are asked about their preferred number of options for a Medicare prescription drug plan, a car, and a jar of jams. The importance of these items to individuals and emotions during the experiment are also inquired through self-report questionnaires. The main purpose of the study is to investigate the variation between older and younger adults’ preferences for a number of options for different items, and developmental trajectories for emotional regulation.

Risky Decision-Making Project
This project investigates whether older adults are able to make good decisions when faced with risky decisions. Risky decision-making can be conceptualized in a dual-system model, which contrasts a deliberative system with a more emotion-based system. The two versions of the Columbia Card Task (CCT) were used to trigger either affective or deliberative decision-making. Self-Reported Decision Strategies were used to assess whether the two versions of the CCT evoked different aspects of the dual system in decision making. Additional individual measures of numeracy and working memory span were measured to see how they relate to the performance in the CCT.