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Age and Influence Attempts

Why would age be associated with influence success? The reason is that both younger adults and much older adults are more susceptible to influence.

Younger adults and much older adults

So far we’ve looked at two characteristics that make a target more or less susceptible to influence: collectivism and suggestibility. Now let’s turn to another important target characteristic: age. Why would age be associated with influence success?

The reason is that both younger adults and much older adults are more susceptible to influence.

Let’s begin with kids – it’s commonly believed the children and adolescents are poor critical thinkers and will be more likely to conform with their peers. This is why the answer to your question to your team child “Hey, if Bobby jumped off a cliff would you?” may not be what you want to hear.

How resistant people were to peer influence?

There’s research that supports the idea that younger adults are more likely to go along with their friends. Psychologists Lawrence Steinberg and Katheryn Monahan, both from Temple University, examine how resistant people were to peer influence.

For this survey participants were given pairs of opposing statements and asked to pick which statement describes them better. For example, which of the following two statements is more true of your behavior?

“Some people go along with their friends just to keep their friends happy” or “other people refused to go along with what their friends want to do even though they know it will make their friends unhappy”.

Being able to resist influence

The researchers administered the survey with many items like this along with some other tests to three different samples of people totalling nearly 4,000 respondents, and they were diverse and always including age.

What they found was that preteens and teens were particularly less resistant to peer influence in other words they were not able to resist. Being able to resist influence began increasing in the teen years and increased gradually each year until about age 20 were it levelled off.

So it appears that there really is something to the idea that the preteen and early teen years are filled with concerns about fitting in with peers and they’re more likely to comply.

The frontal lobe hypothesis of aging

Leaving the kids behind, let’s turn to older adults. Natalie Denberg and her colleagues at the University of Iowa and the University of Southern California were concerned about the rising number of fraud cases that appear to occur with older adults.

We seem to see new stories every day about an older adult being taken advantage of by unscrupulous salesperson, or maybe even by their relatives. Is it really the case that older adults are less able to detect lying and deceit?

Denberg’s work relies on what has been called the Frontal lobe hypothesis of aging. This hypothesis suggests that as people age changes occur in the prefrontal brain structures that undermine fundamental cognitive functions related to decision-making.