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MANY worry that their elderly relatives have become too trusting of strangers.
But researchers have found that our gut instinct about whether those we encounter in the street pose a danger is as sharp when we are 80 as when we are 20.
They discovered that older people are as good as young adults at knowing when a stranger is potentially aggressive, and that being streetwise appears to be a skill honed in childhood but not fully reliable until adulthood.
Psycholgists from the University of Portsmouth wanted to examine our ability to assess real threats in strangers as we age against a backdrop of the debate about the effects of fear of crime in older people. They compared threat perception in 39 people aged 59-91, and in 87 people aged 20-28.
Ninety-five per cent of both groups correctly gauged the aggression, or level of intimidation, of five women and four men filmed walking on a treadmill.
The walkers had been selected after taking an ‘aggression test' to ensure they represented a wide cross-section of degrees of aggression.
Dr Liam Satchell, who headed the research team, said: ‘Older people can be reassured that their gut instincts about who is posing a danger are, generally, excellent. There was no difference in the ability of each adult group. The results could encourage older people to recognise they are street smart, that their gut instincts are spot on.'
The study, published in Europe's Journal of Psychology, is the latest in a series of research projects Satchell has led which together build a picture of how well we recognise the aggression of an approaching person from childhood to old age.
He has found that as children we are generally poor at judging threat. Some 13 to 15 year olds were are accurate in their assessments of threat, but there is a lot of variation in young people's reliability.
However, we develop sharper instincts around the age of 18-20, and these instincts do not decline as we age.
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