It appears that two different parts of the brain are responsible for understanding and appreciating humor. This may also explain why patients with Parkinson's disease do not always receive a joke.
If you've ever laughed at a joke when you didn't think it was funny, or if you've laughed without being sure why, you've shown that understanding and appreciating humor are two very different things. But exactly how these processes occur in our brain has remained a mystery until now. To learn more about this, researchers entered New study Participants watch the famous American sitcom Seinfeld. Now this funny series offers fascinating new insights into how our brains process humor.
The researchers recruited healthy participants who were then studied using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. During the scans, participants listened to a series of audio-recorded jokes and watched an episode of the classic television series Seinfeld. “It was very easy to find participants,” says lead author Margaret Pring. “Who wouldn't want to lie under a comfortable MRI for an hour and watch Seinfeld?”
Two areas in the brain
The researchers saw that two separate areas of the brain are activated when a joke is told or when the heroes do something funny. One area is the dorsal striatum. “This part of the brain plays an important role in understanding jokes,” says researcher Penny MacDonald. Scientias.nl Outside. The fact that this part is activated indicates that the participant “got” the joke. Shortly thereafter, the ventral striatum, which is essential for processing rewards and pleasure, was activated. “This brain area is involved in functions that are necessary for enjoying a joke,” MacDonald explains. Activity in this brain area indicates that participants viewed the sentence or moment as funny, or at least appreciated the humor.
In short, the researchers found that both the dorsal striatum and the ventral striatum in the brain became active when participants tried to understand a Seinfeld joke. This is very surprising. “We were a bit surprised that both areas of the brain became active,” MacDonald says. “However, we know that the ventral striatum is not only involved in processing pleasurable events, such as the enjoyment of a joke, but it also plays a role in guiding our behavior, especially when we seek rewards. So we saw activation of the ventral striatum as a sign that participants were motivated to understand the joke.” , and thus experienced the pleasure associated with appreciating a funny joke.
Overall, the researchers showed that two different subregions of the striatum are involved in understanding and appreciating humor. According to them, one of these processes could be affected by certain diseases or brain damage, such as Parkinson's disease. The researchers decided to study this further. “We don't fully understand how Parkinson's disease affects humor processing, so we are currently investigating this aspect,” MacDonald said.
Different than expected
To test the theory, researchers examined patients with Parkinson's disease while they listened to audio-recorded jokes and watched Seinfeld. Preliminary data suggest that the dorsal striatum did not respond as expected, while the ventral striatum was generally active. “It seems that people with Parkinson's disease may have some difficulty understanding some jokes, but they enjoy the humor once they understand the joke,” MacDonald explains. “In addition, Parkinson's disease appears to affect the processing of certain forms of humor, such as sarcasm, more than other forms. However, these findings require further investigation.”
According to MacDonald, it is very important that we understand this better now. “Humor plays a crucial role in social communication,” she explains. “People with neurodegenerative diseases often have difficulty socializing, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and a significant reduction in their quality of life. However, this is often overlooked. Investigating the neural basis of humor can help us predict which patients are most at risk.” At the same time, it may provide insights into new treatments. This is important, plus understanding the neural basis of such a fundamental and unique human experience is of great importance to us anyway.
In future studies, the team plans to examine how medications that affect the chemical dopamine affect how we understand and appreciate humor. “It is understandable that people with dopamine deficiency, such as in patients with Parkinson's disease, have more difficulty understanding funny things,” says Berenger. “Dopamine is also known as a reward substance. It may help us entertain ourselves with a joke.”
Meanwhile, researchers continue to study the role of different brain regions. “We now know that different parts of the striatum are involved in different functions,” MacDonald says. “By better understanding the role of these brain regions, we also hope to understand and at the same time anticipate some of the issues that arise in many neurodegenerative diseases.”
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