Brain scan reveals how our brain processes jokes

(Medical Xpress) -- A new Medical Research Council (MRC) study which has uncovered how our brain responds to jokes, could help to determine whether patients in a vegetative state can experience positive emotions.

Researchers from the MRC Cognition and Sciences Unit (CBSU) used a brain called (fMRI) to watch and compare what goes on in the brains of normal individuals when they hear ordinary sentences and humorous , including puns. By scanning the brains of twelve healthy volunteers, they found that the reward areas in our brain light up when processing jokes to a much greater degree than when we hear normal speech. This reward response increased with how funny the found each of the jokes.
 
Dr. Matt Davis, who co-led the research at the Medical Research Council CBSU, said: “We found a characteristic pattern of brain activity when the jokes used were puns. For example, jokes like ‘Why don’t cannibals eat clowns? Because they taste funny!’ involved brain areas for language processing more than jokes that didn’t involve wordplay. This response differed again from non-humorous sentences that also contained words with more than one meaning. Mapping how the brain processes jokes and sentences shows how language contributes to the pleasure of getting a joke. We can use this as a benchmark for understanding how people who cannot communicate normally react to jokes.”
 
The authors believe they may be able to use this research to help discover whether someone in a vegetative state can experience positive emotions.
 
Dr. Tristan Bekinschtein, lead author of the paper, said: “We’ve previously used fMRI to detect language comprehension in patients who can’t communicate in any other way. This study shows we could now use similar methods to look for positive emotions in these patients. This is very important for the families and friends of these patients, who want to know whether they can still experience pleasure and ‘laugh’, despite their adversity.”
 
Professor Susan Gathercole, director of the MRC CBSU, said: “This project demonstrates how even what might seem like idiosyncratic aspects of human experience, such as being amused, can be understood using the tools of neuroscience. There is a serious side to this. Being unable to take pleasure in everyday activities is a common symptom of depression. This research is an important part of the Medical Research Council’s commitment to explaining how the brain generates the experience of emotions and, ultimately, helping treat problems.”

Related Stories

'Motherese' important for children's language development

date May 06, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Talking to children has always been fundamental to language development, but new research reveals that the way we talk to children is key to building their ability to understand and create ...

Study: hospital staff joke about patients

date Apr 26, 2006

A new study finds hospital staff routinely crack jokes at the patient's expense while medical students learning about professionalism get mixed messages.

Recommended for you

Diet rich in methionine may promote memory loss

date 17 hours ago

Memory loss has recently been associated with excessive silencing of genes through a process called methylation. Researchers at the University of Louisville investigated the effects of a diet rich in methionine—an amino ...

Intelligent neuroprostheses mimic natural motor control

date Mar 30, 2015

Neuroscientists are taking inspiration from natural motor control to design new prosthetic devices that can better replace limb function. In new work, researchers have tested a range of brain-controlled devices ...

Researchers create 'Wikipedia' for neurons

date Mar 30, 2015

The decades worth of data that has been collected about the billions of neurons in the brain is astounding. To help scientists make sense of this "brain big data," researchers at Carnegie Mellon University ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
Jul 01, 2011
...because they taste funny!
Their jokes were probably off ~ try a fresher one...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.