Brain Teasers

HUMOR

Did you hear the one about the girl who couldn't take a joke? She had no frontal lobes. All kidding aside, researchers have discovered that a specific area of the brain is largely responsible for our sense of humor.

Not all funny bones are created equal; a crack that tickles some people's ribs may make others roil their eyes. Prathiba Shammi, Ph.D., and Donald Stuss, Ph.D., have found that patients with impaired right anterior frontal lobes--a part of the brain that processes irony, nonliteral interpretation and problem-solving--understand only obvious slapstick jokes and not more complex question-and-punch-line riddles. This particular brain structure may therefore influence what we find funny.

In this study, conducted at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, patients deemed a list of supposedly humorous verbal statements less funny than did nonimpaired individuals. When asked to choose which of four answers would be the likely punch line to a joke, patients were also more likely to pick a bizarre non sequitur like "Your nose is too big for your face, boss!" which didn't fit with the riddle. The researchers report in the journal Brain that while patients understood that jokes should have a surprise ending, they were unable to detect the answer that made reference to the joke itself, choosing instead one that was obviously amusing on its own.

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Clearly, comedy is not just a laughing matter--getting it requires some serious mental skill.

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