Television sitcoms in which characters make jokes at someone else’s expense are no laughing matter for older adults, according to a University of Akron researcher.
Jennifer Tehan Stanley, an assistant professor of psychology, studied how young, middle-aged and older adults reacted to so-called “aggressive humor”—the kind that is a staple on shows like The Office.
By showing clips from The Office and other sitcoms (Golden Girls, Mr. Bean, Curb Your Enthusiasm) to adults of varying ages, she and colleagues at two other universities found that young and middle-aged adults considered aggressive humor to be funny while older adults did not. The older adults preferred “affiliative humor, ” in which a number of characters share and navigate an awkward situation.
Stanley and her co-authors, Monika Lohani of Brandeis University and Derek M. Isaacowitz of Northeastern University, published their findings in the journal Psychology and Aging .
The study raises some intriguing questions about our concept of what is funny. Is that concept based on factors peculiar to generations, or does it evolve over time as we age and, perhaps, mellow? Those possibilities will need to be explored in a future episode of humor research. Stay tuned.