Brain Teasers

Focuses on persons with impairment on their right anterior frontal lobes. Discovery of the part of the brain responsible for sense of humor; Details on the study conducted at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, Ontario; Information on how patients understood jokes.

By Camille Chatterjee, published on September 1, 1999 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

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.

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