Not sure when your grandkids are joking? The brain’s ability to recognise emotional cues in voices declines as we age, study finds

  • Over-65s are less accurate at detecting emotions compared to those in 20s  
  • In speech, pensioners can identify the emotion of happiness 35% of the time
  • For comparison, younger people can identify this emotion 52% of the time
  • Older adults also scored lower at decoding the emotions of disgust and anger

Sometimes it might feel like it’s difficult to understand your grandchildren’s jokes. 

But not to worry – as research suggests this is just part of getting older.

A study has shown that the brain’s ability to correctly recognise emotional cues in voices declines as we age.

And the identification of both positive and negative emotions are affected, making it hard to discern a joke from a serious statement.

Sometimes it might feel like it’s difficult to understand your grandchildren’s jokes. But not to worry – as research suggests this is just part of getting older (stock image)

Key findings 

The research examined two age-split groups of volunteers over a series of experiments.

All had good hearing, had English as a native language and were split into groups with an average age of 67 and 21.

Over the course of three experiments, 117 people were played 196 sentences and asked to judge the emotion behind them.

Listeners were asked to identify which emotion was represented in the speaker’s tone of voice.

Overall, the younger group had an average 76 per cent success rate, whereas the older participants only managed 69 per cent.

Across three experiments researchers from the University of Essex found over-65s are less accurate at detecting emotions compared to those in their 20s.

When listening to speech, pensioners were only able to correctly identify the emotion of happiness 35 per cent of the time, compared to 52 per cent in younger people.

Older adults also scored lower at decoding the emotions of disgust and anger.

Researcher Constantina Maltezou-Papastylianou said: ‘How we say something and our tone of voice is as important during social interactions as to what we are actually saying.

‘Have you ever had an awkward moment where something was said with a certain intent but was received differently?

‘I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve joked to my grandmother, only to find out she thought I was being serious, even though I was aiming for a light-hearted tone.

‘Research suggests that one of the explanations for this mismatch of our emotional intention when we say something and how it is actually received by the listener may be due to hormonal and anatomical changes that happen in a brain as we age naturally.’

The research, published in PLOS One, examined two age-split groups of volunteers over a series of experiments.

All had good hearing, had English as a native language and were split into groups with an average age of 67 and 21. 

Over the course of three experiments, 117 people were played 196 sentences and asked to judge the emotion behind them.

Listeners were asked to identify which emotion was represented in the speaker’s tone of voice.

Overall, the younger group had an average 76 per cent success rate, whereas the older participants only managed 69 per cent.

It is thought the decline is largely due to natural changes in the brain associated with healthy ageing and more research will now explore why we lose the ability to grasp someone’s emotional intention as we age.

‘This research is another step forward in understanding how we interpret vocal emotion expressions as we age,’ Mrs Maltezou-Papastylianou said.

‘Emotional recognition from voice can impact many aspects of life and it is important to keep this in mind when interacting with others, particularly with older adults.

‘We hope to build on this research going forward and expand the work to look at different demographics, characteristics and personalities.’

HOW TODDLERS DEVELOP COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Language development explodes from between the ages of two and four according to Dr Amos Grunebaum,  an American obstetrician and gynaecologist.

A child’s vocabulary, understanding and communication skills flourish at around these ages, he says.

These skills are an essential foundation for how a child interacts with others and they significantly impact cognitive, social and emotional development and their future lives in school and beyond. 

By the time a child reaches its second birthday it should have mastered pointing to common objects; three body parts; labelling familiar objects such as cup, dog and shoe. 

Most two years olds can: follow a two step instruction; use more than 50 words – although half will be unintelligible; make phrases of two or more words; use simple plurals and personal pronouns; know the names of close friends and family.

Most three-year-olds will be able to follow two or three step commands and speak in three to four word sentences. 

They should now be much easier to understand and have a vocabulary of around 200 words. 

They should be inquisitive, asking many questions – why, what, who, where, when – and be able to say their name, age and gender. 

They may understand place words like ‘in’, ‘on’ and ‘under’ and be able to name a best friend. 

Their conversation will begin to become more interactive and two-way. 

As a child transitions to preschool, their understanding is becoming much more refined. 

They will begin to understand time words and order words – today, tomorrow, first, next. 

They will be getting better at following more complex instructions and she should be able to hear and understand speech in a variety of settings. 

Their pronunciation will be improving but she may still struggle with difficult consonant like sh, th and l. 

They may begin to name letters and numbers. They may be able to retell events and keep a simple conversation going. 

Their personality will begin to shine through as she chooses topics of conversation that interest her. 

Source: Read Full Article