Youth may be wasted on the young, but sarcasm is apparently wasted on the old, according to the findings of researchers at the University of Aberdeen.
The researchers found that adults over 65 were more likely to misinterpret things said sarcastically and instead take their literal meaning. Imagine how "Sure you're a great driver" could play out when the meaning is misread.
In the study, published in Developmental Psychology, older adults watched video clips of verbal exchanges between people and were asked to evaluate whether what they heard was sarcastic. The research team found that younger and middle-aged adults were significantly better at identifying sarcasm than older adults.
Taking comments the wrong way could affect relationships and friendships, Professor Louise Phillips said in a university report on the study.
“For example, if someone says ‘I see you’re on time as usual’, this could literally mean what it says. Or, there might be a sarcastic intention, and then the underlying message is ‘You’re late. As usual.’ Deciding which way to interpret the statement depends on the context, and also the speaker’s tone of voice and facial expression," she said in a press release. "How this is interpreted can obviously affect the outcome of the conversation and ultimately determine how relationships develop."
Here's one of the videos the team used. How would you fare on the sarcasm detection test?
For what it's worth, researchers at Harvard last year found that the smartest people understood and used sarcasm. Sarcasm is nuanced, and the “mental gymnastics” it requires indicate “superior cognitive processes” at work, the study found.
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