Don’t be sarcastic to over-65s

TELLING Daily Examiner readers there is a university study showing older people find it hard to detect sarcasm provoked a predictable response: most thought it worthwhile and a good example of education spending.

After all, what could be more worthy than studying people who say the opposite of what they mean for comic effect?

The incredibly valuable research from the University of Aberdeen's psychology department tested 116 subjects, showing them videos and written stories.

Initially some readers were angry when they found Australians had been involved in the survey, although this briefly turned to joy when they found the Australians were paid to be actors in the videos.

Study leader Professor Louise Phillips said the subjects viewed videos and written stories and then were asked to 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 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 about seven percentage points worse on the sarcastic ones.

"Older adults have problems in decoding different types of sarcasm," the study concluded.

Some thought it was possible older people were ignoring sarcasm as they had graduated to a higher level of wit.

"We respond better to irony and satire these days," one said.

Posts on the university website thought the "unconvincing Aussie actors" and their incomprehensible accent could well have influenced the result.

Kangaroo Creek resident Steve Gonano said sarcasm required practice.

Although in the study's target range, Mr Gonano said he had little difficulty in both detecting and using sarcasm.

"There's plenty to be sarcastic about. Just look at our leaders and the people we vote for," he said.

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