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Medicine Science

Sarcasm Useful For Detecting Dementia 389

An anonymous reader writes "Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but Australian scientists are using it to diagnose dementia, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of New South Wales, found that patients under the age of 65 suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, cannot detect when someone is being sarcastic."
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Sarcasm Useful For Detecting Dementia

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  • Sarcasm mark (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Monday December 15, 2008 @01:29PM (#26121443) Homepage Journal
    I found this bit from the Wikipedia to be interesting:

    In certain Ethiopic languages, sarcasm is indicated with a sarcasm mark, a character that looks like a backwards question mark at the end of a sentence, similar to Alcanter de Brahm's proposed irony mark ().

    So did the fledgeling movement of Slashdotters who proposed using the tilde ~ as the sarcasm mark beat them to it?

  • by Landshark17 ( 807664 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @01:49PM (#26121725)
    Who can't detect sarcasm either. One of my friends can't pick up sarcasm in the least.

    One of our favorite pastimes is going over to his dorm and saying all the sarcastic things we can think of and watching him freak out. Good god, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.
  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:01PM (#26121889) Homepage

    Actually, I wonder if this is exactly why the behavior of being a smart-ass has evolved in children. We need some way for young people to be able to know if an elder is mentally competent enough. If someone with dementia can't detect sarcasm, it stands to reason that by being a smart-ass, you can tell if they're still capable of making leadership decisions. If they are, then they'll smack you, if not, you put them out on an ice floe.

  • by grumpygrodyguy ( 603716 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:02PM (#26121897)

    "Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but Australian scientists are using it to diagnose dementia, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of New South Wales, found that patients under the age of 65 suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, cannot detect when someone is being sarcastic."

    I have suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia since the age of 15. I'm 33 now, and I can say from my own personal experience that this is very true.

    One of the many reasons I have trouble 'fitting in', especially at social gatherings, is my inability to detect sarcasm. It can be terrifying when someone says something that could be interpreted 'literally' as demeaning or cruel but is only 'joking around' etc.

    I'm better now than I was, but usually only after getting to know a person well. Surprisingly however, even people I've known for 5+ years can still be sarcastic occasionally and it will go right over my head. They know about my illness however, and on occasions like those do me the favor of pointing out they were just being sarcastic, which helps.

    I think the approach in the article could be a great diagnostic tool for early detection of these types of mental illness...I suffered from schizophrenia without knowing I had it for almost 10 years. My life fell to pieces; that and my family and friends (the few I had left) finally convinced me I had a problem. I was the last to know I had schizophrenia...and it has been very very difficult coming to terms with it.

    Maybe if it was detected earlier I could have been treated earlier, and the damage to my life and my state of mind might have been mitigated considerably. I don't know.

  • Speak as a Masshole (Score:3, Interesting)

    by raddan ( 519638 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:07PM (#26121975)
    with a great love of sacrasm, I've noticed that there is a definite geographical component to it. For example, while traveling in the South, I discovered that my use of sarcasm was frequently either taken at face value, or misinterpreted as me just being an asshole. For instance, saying something like "nice weather today" (when it clearly is not) is an icebreaker that works across socioeconomic lines in a place like MA. However, [in my experience] in the South, uttering something so baldly wrong often earns you the you-are-an-idiot look. So while this test may be useful in cultures that actually use/value sarcasm, I think it may be less useful in ones that do not.
  • by LunaticTippy ( 872397 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:22PM (#26122209)
    You probably would get the exact same look if you said something not sarcastic with a MA accent.

    I found that after a few days in the south I started talking with a drawl. Strangers became much friendlier to me.
  • by Pingo ( 41908 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:36PM (#26122419)

    From my own experience I have noticed that people
    in the very start of a psykosis episode also suffers from not beeing able to understand sarcasm.

    This is before they show any real signs of the mental illness.

    I lived together with a woman many years that had this kind of problems and I used sarcasm to check her up so to speak. It never failed to indicate when she was about to have a new episode and to be prepared to help her out.

  • Lowest Form of Wit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:52PM (#26122623) Homepage Journal

    Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit...

    Never, never begin a submission with a clever aside. You're absolutely begging to be contradicted!

    Here's the kind of wit that's lowest in my esteem, in rough order of lowness. Oddly enough, they're all popular on Slashdot!

    1. Proctological exhibitionism []
    2. A Slashdot signature designed to trick people into logging out.
    3. Saying "automagically" instead of "automatically".
    4. Retooling worn out jokes to fit the current situation ("I, for one, welcome our new sarcastic overlords").
  • EMT technique? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by localman ( 111171 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:57PM (#26122667) Homepage

    I don't know if this is common or not, but an EMT seemed to use this once to tell if I was going to pass out. I had broken my upper arm and at some point I guess I was looking whiter than usual (according to my friends). After putting the arm in a sling the EMT looked at me very seriously and said something like "What's the problem? You're a big guy. What's the big deal?" I was confused for a moment, then I realized he was being sarcastic and I laughed. When I did, he smiled, patted me on the (other) shoulder and announced "Yeah, he's okay. He'll be fine."

    I thought that was a pretty good way to tell how out of it I was. Of course some people don't get sarcasm at all, so it might not work all the time.

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <> on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:30PM (#26123097)

    From TFA:

    "(FTD) patients present changes in personality and behaviour. They find it difficult to interact with people, they don't pick up on social cues, they lack empathy, they make bad judgements."

    That sounds almost like a textbook description of Asperger's Syndrome. Hmmmm....

  • Re:Sarcasm mark (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AviLazar ( 741826 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:59PM (#26123491) Journal
    I wanted to convey that he's just trying to make small-talk to cover up the fact that he's already decided they weren't going to employ me, instead his face twitched for a second and his mouth opened and you could see his brain clicking away trying to digest what I'd just said.

    More-then likely you shot yourself in the foot. I have interviewed many people and when I don't want to hire someone i try to end the interview fast with the least amount of questions. The small talk, as others have noted, was probably to get a personal feel for you to see if you can work well with others. Now what you should have done was make a joke and make the person laugh. That would have increased your chances at getting opposed to going back to the unemployment line.
  • by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:16PM (#26124725) Homepage

    that reminds of the summer i spent at a Buddhist temple/monastery in Taiwan. i was in junior high or just entering high school, i think, and I went there with a couple other Asian-American teenagers as part of a Buddhist/animal rights summer camp program that our parents enrolled us in.

    despite being pulled out of bed at 4 in the morning, not being able to eat meat, being made to do farm work (the monks grew most of their own food), and having to recite stupid mantras [] every morning, and even being locked in a urine-soaked livestock trailer in the baking sun for half an hour (yes, i'm serious.), it was a really interesting experience.

    but one of the more unexpected things to happen was learning that Taiwanese people aren't familiar with sarcasm. while we were socializing with a few of the younger monks (their ages ranged from mid-teens to early-20's) one of the American teenagers responded to a question from one of the monks with a sarcastic reply. and while it was pretty obvious to all of us Americans that he was being facetious, the monks were rather perplexed. we tried to explain it to them, but the culture gap was too big. to them there was no difference between being sarcastic and lying.

  • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:36PM (#26125035)

    Nice of you to jump to the conclusion that a psychiatrist only uses a single factor in testing for a mental illness. 'Cause the DSM IV is just FULL of illness that only have a single symptom which is NEVER a sign of another illness.

  • Re:Sarcasm mark (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:18PM (#26128479)
    You're assuming that the interviewee in this scenario didn't have any power in the interview process. You're also assuming that because he was being interviewed, he was unemployed already. Those two assumptions, although probably correct for most job applicants, tells us more about your mindset and your station in life than anything about him and his.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller