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A Glimpse As To How Jokes Are Processed By The Human Brain

  March, 5 2001 9:43
your information resource in human molecular genetics
The rewards of a good joke

Humor has a complex role in many social interactions, and it may be unique to humans. Now Vinod Goel and Raymond Dolan (Nature Neuroscience, Vol. 4, No. 3, 01 Mar 2001) offer a glimpse as to how jokes are processed by the human brain. They scanned volunteers with fMRI while they listened to two types of jokes, and then rated whether they found the jokes amusing using a 'funniness' scale. (Laughing was discouraged, however, to prevent movement in the scanner.) While the subjects processed so-called semantic jokes ("What do engineers use for birth control? - their personalities"), areas of their brain that are known to be involved in the semantic processing of language were active. Similarly, various areas known to be involved in speech production were active when subjects processed puns ("Why did the golfer wear two sets of pants? - He got a hole in one."). Across both types of jokes, the authors found activation in an area of the brain, the medial ventral prefrontal cortex, known to represent and control reward-related behaviors. Moreover, activation in this region correlated with subjects' funniness ratings. Therefore, the authors conclude that separate systems in the brain underlie the cognitive processing of different types of jokes, whereas the pleasurable affect associated with 'getting' a joke involves shared circuitry known to process rewards.


Dr. Vinod Goel
York University
Department of Psychology
M3J 1P3 Toronto, ON
fax: +1 416 736 5814
email: vgoel@yorku.ca

Dr. Raymond J. Dolan
Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology
Institute of Neurology
12 Queen Square
London, WC1N 3BG
tel: +44 20 7833 7453
fax: +44 20 7813 1420
email: r.dolan@fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk

(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.

Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza

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