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Older people can't detect social gaffes

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A New Zealand study has found that older people have more trouble detecting social gaffes committed by others.

This is the result of a decline in how they perceive emotions, the study showed.

Using video clips from the British sitcom The Office starring Ricky Gervais as the gaffe-prone David Brent, researchers at the University of Otago compared the ability of 121 older and younger adults to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate behavior, Reuters reports.

Those aged over 60 were not as good as young adults at judging when Brent was socially inappropriate, which took place in roughly half the video clips.

Ted Ruffman, an associate professor at the university's Department of Psychology, said it showed recognition of expressions of faces, or of bodies, or of voices, "gets worse as we get older".

"The difference isn't huge but it's there, and related to worsening emotional recognition," he said.

Ruff said the implication was that "difficulties in spotting faux pas are related to difficulties in the social world".

Previous Otago research has shown that people over 60 are worse at recognising anger, sadness and often fear on the faces of others.

Also, they are not as good at detecting dangerous faces as younger people are.

It's hoped the most recent study may help to understand the aging process and how to deal with it.

The findings have been published in the US journal Psychology and Aging.


User comments
That's one conclusion, on the other hand only using one sample in such a study may be skewing the results, it's possible more mature people just don't relate to Gervais's acting style, David Brent is somewhat deliberately a caricature in the Office so the findings wouldn't necessarily translate into the real world in any case, or to the more modern approach to television, the office in particular trying for, what was at the time, an edgy mix of faux-documentary & office sitcom, try the same thing with Dad's Army or The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin & see what the results are. -Do youngins these days understand that accidentally saying 'hippopotamus' when you mean to refer to your mother-in-law is inappropriate? Hm, well do they? Speak up. Also pays not to equate correlation with causation in scientific studies. There are many social differences between the young and old & what they grew up exposed to. Get the young people of this study back when they're older & test them again.
I'd have liked to know the exact age range that was studied here. The study looked at people over 60, but how much older? 65? 75? 80? Also, the study mixed 121 "older and younger people" -- which must have narrowed down the number of older folk studied. That's a very small number to be making such a sweeping statement about.
Rarely have I read such nonsense. It has nothing to do with the perceptive skills, but rather what individuals consider as "gaffes". Older people are not so captivated by the ridiculous constraints inflicted by adherance to the PC trend, and therefore are not so deparately worried about people being offended. Gervais said " because people are offended by what I say does not in itself mean I am wrong" How right he was. For goodness sake let us return to the time when PC and the likes of Ruffman ( who clearly has nothing more useful to do ) were not present in our Society.
I have never read such absolute twaddle, older people takecomments like that with a bigpinch of salt!
I don"t believe this result. It was taken from a very small sample and from where did they come? During the Paul Henry saga, I presume the things said would be classed as gaffes, the greater number of people who complained about what was said appeared to be older people. I base this assumption, and it is that, on the language used in the comments which were made. the more puerile, non grammatical texting type language is usually the younger amongst us and more of these could see nothing wrong with what Mr. Henry said. There was the same trend in the complaints about recent Air New Zealand advertising. I think I have as much "evidence" to state the reverse of the above findings as the good people from the university had to find their their views. Mike
Perhaps those depicted on the programme are the type the younger, i.e. target audience, recognise, but the older, having lived longer, take with a grain of salt, as opposed to those the younger would not even recognise i.e. wearing a hat indoors, failing to rise when a lady enters the room, correct form of introductions e.g. junior presented to senior, correct form of dress and address, conducting intrusive cell phone conversations in company, etc. Artificially constructed PC seems to be taking over from good manners - one need only to observe the next wedding or funeral to see.
don't know if it's the fact old folks can't detect social gaffes, but perhaps more the fact that they are more socially couth in NOT pointing out the failures of others? Social graciousness is about respect, self respect and respecting other people. Respecting that people have the power and can choose how they want to behave. I always wonder why in The Office, his bosses never make the efforts in their appraisal of their employee to get the man some help. Says more about the bosses and company, but after all The Office is make believe NOT really art imitating life ... or is it?
Without further detail its difficult to determine the accuracy of the headline or of the actual study. As indicated in the article, the differences aren't much but have nevertheless been picked up or described as significant by the researchers and reporters. So does that mean its a simple statistically 'significant' phenomenon (which may or may not be socially significant)? Or, might there be other explanations than deteriorating faculties of the older person which is somewhat banal but spiced up a bit with the headline. Quite possibly,for instance,older people simply aren't as 'PC' as younger people and thus don't regard some of the social gaffes' as anything but trivial ie they can't see what the fuss is about. Alternatively, these same older people it ought to be remembered are the generation who reared the current crop of Gen Ys etc who apparently are able to 'see' social gaffes better--or maybe they are simply more preoccupied with such matters than their parents.

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