So What’s This I Hear About Old-Timers and Humor?

Last week I began a “silver sneakers” movement class at Bally‘s for people 65 and older. During our various movements, our leader Barb tries different things to keep all of us alert and not too bored, things like counting the moves in different languages. So far we’re learning to count to 10 in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Russian. To make it easier for those of us who are more “language challenged,” one member printed out a list for each of us with the correct spelling alongside the phonetic spelling. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. But it keeps us laughing–mostly at ourselves–because at our age we know that laughter really is the best medicine.

So Thursday in one of the routine sets of movements, while we were NOT counting out loud, Barb shared some information she’d heard on the radio just that morning as she was driving to the gym. It was about the article featured in the Washington Post on July 10, 2007 concerning a study by MIT and Harvard Universities that showed we “old-timers” were so much slower to comprehend and react to humor than the “younguns.”  

I don’t quite know why, but studies such as this really irk me. It’s as if there’s somebody every day out there ready to point out the disadvantages of getting older. Now they attack our ability to process humor? I can only speak for myself technically, but I suspect that, from the reactions of the other old-timers alongside me in class that day, I’m not the only one.

One person brought up the fact that she found her humor had changed as she’d grown older; she no longer felt that things were as funny as they had been 40 or so years before. Others admitted they had laughed at things when they were younger even if they didn’t “get it,” just to be considered one of the “cool” or “smart” ones. Several nodded in fierce agreement that those studies didn’t mean a toot.

Over the weekend I had a chance to discuss these studies with Daughter #1 who is a researcher and professor in social psychology at a major University. She knows all about these studies. She pointed out that this particular one didn’t mean a whole lot because it didn’t provide any new information, and that in her opinion it was a flawed study because of the way the experiments were conducted. She did point out that we do slow down in most areas of our lives as we age and explained why this happens in agreement with the Post article:

“…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.” (from the Washington Post article)

I beg to differ, however, about the comprehension of humor and point to the examples of our oldster’s conversations above. To further prove the point, one lady decided to tell us a joke as our own contribution to further “geezer” research.

What did the stomach say to the burp?

When she’d finished everyone howled–immediately I might add–with the exception of two or three of us who had another problem we hadn’t considered. We have suffered hearing loss, some of us from childhood, that prevented us from hearing the punchline the first time. I wonder if the MIT and Harvard did any ear testing for these tests?!

What did you say? You want to hear the rest of the joke. Well . . . okay . . . if you’re really sure! Whatever else we old-timers are, we aren’t afraid of our humor. If you’re sure you’re ready for it, here’s the rest of the joke:

Shhhhhhhhh! If you’re really quiet I’ll let you out the back door!

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