60-Second Science

Heavy Drinking Can Affect Ability To Get Jokes

A study of mental functioning in alcoholic patients found that they performed less well than a control group in choosing the correct punchline for a joke.

Here’s a relatively unknown risk associated with heavy drinking.  You might lose your ability to get jokes.  That’s according to research in the journal Addiction. In a study in Germany, alcoholic patients took a range of tests of mental functioning.  One test involved the setup for a joke, after which the subjects had to pick from a choice of punchlines.  The joke involved a brother and sister who had told their mom to stay late in bed on Mother’s Day.  After waiting forever, she finally comes downstairs to find the kids eating.  Your punchline choices are

The daughter says we didn’t expect you up so early.
The daughter hits her brother with egg.
The son says, “We have a new teacher at school.”
Or the daughter says, “It’s a surprise for Mother’s Day.  We cooked our own breakfast!”

Ninety-two2 percent of a control group got the correct punchline, about the kids cooking their own breakfast.  Only 68 percent of the alcoholic patients did. Heavy drinking may affect mental functioning so that it disrupts one’s capacity to follow the logic of jokes.

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