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Getting Old No Laughing Matter: US Study

The old jokes may be the best, but according to a psychological study conducted in the United States, our ability to even spot a one liner deteriorates as we age.

Researchers at Washington University in St Louis asked one group of people aged from 65 to their late 80s and another in their early 20s the same opening lines of a series of jokes and asked them to pick one of four endings.

While one answer was the expected punch line, the other three included a humorous answer that bore no relation to the start of the joke, a totally straight response and a complete non sequitur.

According to Wingyun Mak, the graduate student behind the study, the older group was noticeably less likely to spot the punch line. "These are statistically significant differences," she said.

"Our study basically gets at this idea of the relationship between mental abilities and how well someone understands humor," Mak told AFP.

"People know that there are certain mental abilities that decline as we get older. Our memory at 80 is probably not going to be as good as our memory when we're 20.

"Given that, how does that fit in with how well people understand humor? Humor is a higher order mental process," she added.

The study builds on earlier research on aging and humor, but differentiates between finding a joke funny and merely identifying one. "They don't have to find it funny but they have to understand how it works," she said.

"We're definitely were not trying to say that older adults don't have a sense of humor, but I think that there are certain types of jokes that are more difficult for older adults," Mak said.

"However, just because you're an older adult does not mean that you can't understand humor. All hope is not lost," she added. "This is just the first step in understanding how humor comprehension functions in older adults."


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