Appreciation of humor doesn't change with age

But ability to comprehend complex humor diminishes in later years

A Canadian study of humor in older adults has found that appreciation and emotional reactiveness to humor doesn't change with age. Older adults still enjoy a good laugh.

However, the ability to comprehend more complex forms of humor diminishes in later years.

The findings are published in the September issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. Lead researcher Dr. Prathiba Shammi, a psychologist with Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, conducted the study with the supervision of Dr. Donald Stuss, psychologist and Director of The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. The research was part of Dr. Shammi's doctoral thesis at the University of Toronto.

Shammi and Stuss captured world attention in 1999 for their landmark study (published in the journal BRAIN) showing the 'right' frontal lobe plays a pre-eminent role in our ability to appreciate humor. They found that subjects with right frontal damage -- from stroke, tumor or head trauma -- not only had difficulty getting punch lines, but preferred slapstick humor.

In this current study, a second phase of the earlier study, Shammi and Stuss explored the effects of normal aging on humor comprehension and appreciation.

Humor 'comprehension' is defined as the ability to cognitively or intellectually understand humorous material, which may be assessed by the ability of the responder to select appropriate punch lines to jokes or provide appropriate logical reasoning as to why a stimulus is humorous. Humor 'appreciation' is the affective or emotional response to humorous stimuli (such as smiling, laughing) once the humor has been cognitively processed and understood at some level.

"The good news is that aging does not affect emotional responses to humor -- we'll still enjoy a good laugh when we get the joke," says Dr. Shammi. "This preserved affective resp

Contact: Kelly Connelly

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