Scientists have discovered that different kinds of jokes stimulate different parts of the brain, which is why some people break up over a particular joke, while others don’t “get” it.
Vinod Goel of York University in Toronto and Raymond Dolan of the Institute of Neurology in London wanted to find out where laughter originates in the brain, so they used an MRI to scan the brains of 14 healthy people while they listened to 2 types of jokes.
Half of the jokes were the “Why did the chicken cross the road?” variety. The other half were puns. For controls, they also told jokes without punchlines.
To their amazement, they found that the two types of jokes were processed in different parts of the brain. The first type was processed in the temporal lobe, but the puns were processed on the left side of the brain, where speech is produced.
The jokes were intentionally lame, admits Goel, because they didn’t want the volunteers to laugh out loud and move their heads inside the MRI machine.
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