Culture Lab U.K. (Culture-Lab)

Why The Elderly May Not See The Joke


A new study published in the 'Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society' concludes that it's harder for people over 65 years old to understand jokes than it is for students and the authors of the report say that the findings should be taken seriously as laughing has been linked to health benefits such as boosting circulation.

It seems that many older adults may have deficits in some cognitive areas which might cause them to have a harder time understanding a joke.

The researchers tested 40 people aged over 65 and 40 undergraduates and the participants had to complete jokes and cartoon strips and then choose the correct punch-line or final picture from a selection of options. When it came to choosing the punch-lines for jokes the undergraduates performed 6% better than older people and when completing cartoon strips they were 14% better.

The report's authors say the results suggest that because age relates to declines in short term memory, abstract reasoning and moving between different thought trains that that may affect the humour comprehension in older people.

The author of the report Professor Brian Carpenter said, "This wasn't a study about what people find funny. It was a study about whether they get what's supposed to be funny. There are basic cognitive mechanisms to understanding what's going on in a joke. Older adults, because they may have deficits in some of those cognitive areas may have a harder time understanding what a joke is about".

Dr Chris Moulin a cognitive neuron-psychologist at the University of Leeds said it was 'entirely feasible' that people's understanding of jokes could change with age. "Many jokes require us to simultaneously have two ideas in mind and older people may find it difficult to do this. Having a sense of humour is important to health because laughter can maintain wellbeing by boosting levels of the so called "happy hormones".

He warned however that if the jokes used in the study used modern humour then the younger people might find them funnier and understand them better which would have affected the results.