Are nasty jokes causing problems for elderly couples? New research begins

Heather Heap, who is leading the research.

Heather Heap, who is leading the research.

14 June 2024

From classic knock-knock jokes to mother-in-law puns, researchers are looking at how humour affects older couples’ relationships.

Aberystwyth University academics are beginning a new study of how the over-60s use humour with their partners.

Psychologists separate jokes into those that have a negative impact on our wellbeing and others that are positive.

Many Jerry Seinfeld routines use humour which appeals to everyone, while Jon Stewart on the Daily Show often uses a style that targets the joke-teller themselves in a good-natured way – both styles are seen as psychologically positive.  

On the other hand, academics point to other negative comedic methods: the type of put downs often heard in Romesh Ranganathan’s stand-up and other jokes that insult individuals, as classically told by the late Joan Rivers.

Previous research has concentrated on the affect of humour in younger couples’ relationship. It has shown that aggressive jokes tend to have a negative impact on people’s satisfaction with a relationship.

As part of the new study, academics will survey couples who are sixty and over to see how humour affects them.

Part of the aim of the study is to learn lessons that could be used to improve the care of older people.

Heather Heap from Aberystwyth University, who is running the study, said:

“While we all enjoy a good joke, the impact of quips and puns on our relationships and our wellbeing does have a serious side. For example, understanding how different factors affect older adults' relationships may help improve methods of care and treatment. It has important implications for couples’ wellbeing.

Humour plays an important part in all our lives. Previous research has shown that it has a plethora of benefits - some of which are more obvious that others - for individuals’ mental and physical health, improving life satisfaction and social cohesions in older adults.”

Dr Gil Greengross from the Department of Psychology at Aberystwyth University added:

“People use humour for many purposes, but little is known about the role humour plays in maintaining romantic relationships. Even less so is known about the way older couples use humour in their relationships.

“We know that humour is an important attribute for many people and we hope to learn more about its uses among a population that is rarely studied.”

The Aberystwyth University research are looking for couples where both partners are aged sixty and over to take part in the study. Anyone interested can contact: or 01970621635.