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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Researchers Find Older Folks Don't Get The Joke

It's no laughing matter that older adults have a tougher time understanding basic jokes than do younger adults.

It's partially due to a cognitive decline associated with age, according to Washington University in St. Louis researchers Wingyun Mak, a graduate student in psychology in Arts & Sciences, and Brian Carpenter, Washington University associate professor of psychology.

Humor comprehension in older adults functions in a different fashion than humor comprehension in younger adults. The researchers studied older adults from a university subject pool as well as undergraduate students. The subjects participated in tests that indicated their ability to complete jokes accurately as well as tests that indicated their cognitive capabilities in areas of abstract reasoning, short-term memory, and cognitive flexibility. Overall, older adults demonstrated lower performance on both tests of cognitive ability as well as tests of humor comprehension than did younger adults.

"However, just because you're an older adult does not mean that you can't understand humor. All hope is not lost," says Mak. "This is just the first step in understanding how humor comprehension functions in older adults." There are likely a multitude of factors, like previous experiences, preferences, and personality that also contribute to how well someone understands different types of humor.

The hope would be that this study and future research would allow researchers to gain a greater understanding of the relationship between cognition and humor comprehension. Perhaps down the line, this knowledge may inform the way humor is integrated into programs targeted at improving the quality of life for older adults.

The paper, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, was based on the theory that humor comprehension is a result of resolving incongruities—resolving the conflict between the expected and the actual, which requires a combination of cognitive skills. As older adults age, they experience cognitive declines that the researchers indicate affect their ability to comprehend humor.

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