Joke comprehension may decrease with age

Joke comprehension may decrease with age

By BETSY TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer July 11, 2007

It’s no laughing matter: a new study suggests older adults have a
harder time getting jokes as they age. The research indicates that
because older adults may have greater difficulty with cognitive
flexibility, abstract reasoning and short-term memory, they also have
greater difficulty with tests of humor comprehension.

Researchers at Washington University tested about 40 healthy adults
over age 65 and 40 undergraduate students with exercises in which they
had to complete jokes and stories. Participants also had to choose the
correct punch line for verbal jokes and select the funny ending to
series of cartoon panels.

Findings were published earlier this month in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

The research conducted by graduate student Wingyun Mak and
psychology professor Brian Carpenter showed that the younger adults did
6 percent better on the verbal jokes and 14 percent better on the comic
portion than did older participants, Mak said.

Researchers used a verbal joke test developed in 1983 and used in
other humor studies. Mak added a new element, though, by showing
participants cartoons from the Ferd’nand comic strip, and asking them
to choose between four panels to locate the funny ending. Three of the
choices for each cartoon were the wrong ones, created by an artist for
the study.

"This wasn’t a study about what people find funny. It was a study
about whether they get what’s supposed to be funny," Carpenter said.

"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."

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