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A theoretical framework for using humor to reduce the effects of chronic stress on cognitive function in older adults: An integration of findings and methods from diverse areas of psychology

  • Sasha Mallya

    Sasha Mallya completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Her research interests involve studying lifestyle factors that promote optimal cognitive function, particularly in older adults. Her graduate research has focused on the effects of mindfulness training on cognitive and psychological well-being in late life.

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    , Maureen Reed

    Maureen Reed is a professor in psychological science at Ryerson University. The focus of her research is on perceptual and learning aspects of aging, learning strategies, resiliency, stress coping, resourcefulness and predictors to personal success.

    and Lixia Yang

    Lixia Yang is a professor in psychological science at Ryerson University. Her research focuses on aging and cognition, with specific interests in cognitive plasticity, culture and memory, as well as emotion-cognition interaction in older adults.

From the journal HUMOR


This paper synthesizes the literature on cognitive aging, emotion regulation, and humor, to provide a theoretical framework for the utility of humor in promoting successful cognitive aging. Many older adults experience some degree of cognitive decline, which is associated with reductions in functional status, independence, and overall quality of life. These losses can result in considerable stress that is chronic in nature. The following discussion proposes humor as a technique that older adults may use to reduce stress and protect cognitive abilities. Humor here is described as a form of cognitive reappraisal, allowing older adults to reappraise daily stressors. Further, it is speculated that humor’s protective value is in the reduction of chronic activation of the physiological stress response systems, which in turn may protect functional integrity of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Because older adults appear to have difficulty solving more complex jokes, we propose that low complexity, self-enhancing humor may be the most useful form of humor for older adults.

About the authors

Sasha Mallya

Sasha Mallya completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Her research interests involve studying lifestyle factors that promote optimal cognitive function, particularly in older adults. Her graduate research has focused on the effects of mindfulness training on cognitive and psychological well-being in late life.

Maureen Reed

Maureen Reed is a professor in psychological science at Ryerson University. The focus of her research is on perceptual and learning aspects of aging, learning strategies, resiliency, stress coping, resourcefulness and predictors to personal success.

Lixia Yang

Lixia Yang is a professor in psychological science at Ryerson University. Her research focuses on aging and cognition, with specific interests in cognitive plasticity, culture and memory, as well as emotion-cognition interaction in older adults.


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Published Online: 2018-11-06
Published in Print: 2019-02-25

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