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Tracing the Neural Circuitry of Humor

Everyone’s going nuts for functional MRI in research circles these days, it seems. Why, a bunch of wacky neuroscientists from Dartmouth College have even used the technology to study what happens when we humans find something funny. Turns out that the ability to appreciate humor may be an “advanced” human trait, according to New Scientist magazine. –KA

New Scientist via Arts & Letters Daily:

But which parts of the brain carry out these processes? To find out, Joseph Moran, then at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, used functional MRI to scan the brains of volunteers while they watched popular TV sitcoms. The experiments revealed a distinct pattern of neural activity that occurs in response to a funny joke, with the left posterior temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus seeing the most activity. These regions are normally linked to language comprehension and the ability to adjust the focus of our attention, which would seem to correspond to the process of incongruity-resolution at the heart of a good joke.

Further research, conducted by Dean Mobbs, then at Stanford University in California, uncovered a second spike of activity in the brain’s limbic system — associated with dopamine release and reward processing — which may explain the pleasure felt once you “get” the joke.

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