The inability to grasp double meanings is due to a block of the so-called executive functions, in which the striatum plays a key role
Using functional magnetic resonance imagingthe imaging technique that films brain activity, Canadian researchers from the University of Western Ontario directed by Margaret Prenger have indicated on the Journal of Neuroscience
which areas of the brain make us understand jokes and how we are able to appreciate humor.
While lying in the MRI, 26 young people of both sexes (11 males and 15 females), homogeneous in terms of cultural characteristics and physical and mental health, had to listen 80 recordings, half of which contained a joke and the rest a comically neutral story. Through a system of mirrors, episodes of well-known US comedies such as the satirical The Airport were also shown in half of them and those of The Movie in the other half.
The audio recordings were listened to through special headphones also active in the resonance magnet. They were presented randomly and the recorded voice was male and without intonations that could influence the listener’s judgment, which had to be based only on the content and not on the presentation methods. Hearing a story told in a joking manner can in fact lead to laughter even if the joke isn’t much of a joke. Then the participants had to say which story made them laugh the most, assigning a hilarity score ranging from 0 to 4.
After adequate statistical checks, the images collected by the MRI were compared to the judgment given by the participants and the result was that in the recognition of the humor involved the dorsal striatum nucleus, a coiled ponytail area located in the very center of the brain. Instead, he deals with understanding the joke the ventral striatum and the ventromedial prefrontal cerebral cortex, the amygdala, the anterior insula, the nucleus accumbens and the midbrain then intervene to process its content.
Even in an apparently banal cognitive process like a joke, half the brain intervenes, so much so that in 2008 the neuropsychologist Katherine Rankin of the California University of San Francisco on Journal of Clinical Psychiatry I had The inability to appreciate sarcasm is associated with frontotemporal dementia also deserving an article on New York Times entitled The Science of Sarcasm.
And it’s not over: that same year another Canadian neuropsychologist, Laura Monetta of McGill University in Montreal, indicated on the Journal of Neuropsychology That those suffering from Parkinson’s disease unable to interpret the perhaps laughing intonation of someone telling a joke and is unable to grasp the double meanings that pepper these stories due to a functional deficiency of the striatum nucleusaltered in tremor disease by the deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine that characterizes it. Parkinsonians would be unable to decode the meaning of words regardless of how they are pronounced and, on the opposite side, this deficit also negatively limits their communication which, beyond the myo-articular limitations due to stiffness and slowing typical of the disease, leads them to have, when they manage to speak without blocks, a monotonous speech.
Now the Canadian study confirms that the inability to grasp the double meanings of jokes is due to a block of the so-called executive functions, in which the striatum plays a key role. Until now we knew about its action of planning and modulating movements to achieve a certain goal. The same would happen when it comes to planning and modulating thinking to arrive at the understanding of a problemespecially if it is associated with gratification.
Understanding a joke is a problem solving process, where inconsistencies or absurdities are recognized and resolved. The fun of those who tell it and the joy that arises in those who understand it coexist. The two striatal areas contribute to the understanding of humor with activity working memoryresolution of ambiguities and cognitive flexibility. It is precisely the striatal dysfunction that prevents Parkinson’s sufferers from understanding witty phrases in which it is necessary to decipher a semantic ambiguity.
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January 20, 2024 (modified January 20, 2024 | 08:56)
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