When it comes to this joke…apparently over 65s just don’t get it 28



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New research has shown a certain type of joke that over 60s just don’t get: sarcasm. According to a study published in Developmental Psychology, people over 65 are less able to detect and understand sarcasm.

Sarcasm is characterised, as we’re sure you know, is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt, often for comic effect. However, the new research shows that ageing tends to make people less able to perceive emotional cues and understand the intentions of others.

The study, led by Professor Louise Phillips of the University of Aberdeen, asked 116 participants to view series of videos and written stories, then explain them.

“For example,” the study says, “in one simple sarcasm video, a woman is busily doing a domestic task while a man reads a book and she says (sarcastically): ‘Are you busy? I know you’ve got a lot on.’” Participants were then required to answer yes or no to the questions: Is she is trying to pressure him into helping her? Is she trying to say it’s OK if he doesn’t help? Is she annoyed with him? and so on. When all the tests were marked, the 36 people who were older than 65 were just as good as the rest at understanding non-sarcastic conversations, but around seven percentage points worse on the sarcastic ones. “Older adults have problems in decoding different types of sarcasm,” the study concluded, reports the Guardian.

Obviously, it is sensible to draw conclusions about old people based on the behaviour of 36 of them!

The study even admits this mightn’t be a perfect example: “There is a stereotype that recent generations use irony and sarcasm more frequently than previous generations do,” it says. “However, there is not much empirical evidence to determine whether this reflects reality”.

Professor Louise Phillips, who led the study, warned that being unable to understand sarcasm could have an adverse affect on our relationships as we get older.

She said, “We already know that engaging in social interactions is valuable, particularly as we age, and we were interested in finding out how the normal ageing process might affect our ability to understand subtle social cues such as sarcasm.

“Until now, no-one has looked at how older adults interpret sarcasm, and specifically, if they can flip the literal meaning to understand the intended meaning. So, we are interested in finding out whether our ability to understand other people’s intentions changes as we age.”

“Deciding which way to interpret the statement depends on the context, and also the speaker’s tone of voice and facial expression. How this is interpreted can obviously affect the outcome of the conversation and ultimately determine how relationships develop”, she said.


Tell us, do you have trouble detecting sarcasm?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Complete rubbish: insert giant raspberry here.

    1 REPLY
    • Raspberries to you also Pam. I think it is good to debate these things that confront us every day. Anyhow only babies give raspberries don’t post if you don’t like it.

  2. Perhaps it is because as people age they often mellow, become more tactful, and are better at handling difficult people. ie better at relationships. Who over 65 has got the time to waste saying what you don’t mean?!

  3. I found this was an article about a whole lot of nothing. Hard to work out what it is trying to say when 38 people and a whole range of variants is hardly a trial for anything.

    2 REPLY
    • I have found it to be the other way around and I am not a professor. But willing to do a study for a small consideration.

    • Professor Phillips isn’t worth her salt if she thinks that 116 is a valid sample size. It’s a pilot study only. I don’t think much of Developmental Psychology for publishing that. Obviously a not peer-reviewed journal.

  4. I am 73 and immediately recognised the irony in your example but i think you are missing a big ooint here we are probably the last generation who thought or laughed at your example but were too polite to vocalise the thought. In other words ee kept our harsh or ironic thoughts to ourselves.

  5. 36 people involved in the study, that is not nearly enough people to get an accurate outcome.

  6. I don’t think that it a case of “not getting it”, I think it’s more that as man I’ve heard it a thousand times in real life, I ignored it then and.

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