new Medical Research Council (MRC) study which has uncovered how our
brain responds to jokes, could help to determine whether patients in a
vegetative state can experience positive emotions.
from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (CBSU) used a brain
scanning technique called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
to watch and compare what goes on in the brains of normal individuals
when they hear ordinary sentences and humorous jokes, including puns. By
scanning the brains of twelve healthy volunteers, they found that the
reward areas in our brain light up when processing jokes to a much
greater degree than when we hear normal speech. This reward response
increased with how funny the study participants found each of the jokes.
Matt Davis, who co-led the research at the Medical Research Council
CBSU, said: “We found a characteristic pattern of brain activity when
the jokes used were puns. For example, jokes like ‘Why don’t cannibals
eat clowns? Because they taste funny!’ involved brain areas for language
processing more than jokes that didn’t involve wordplay. This response
differed again from non-humorous sentences that also contained words
with more than one meaning. Mapping how the brain processes jokes and
sentences shows how language contributes to the pleasure of getting a
joke. We can use this as a benchmark for understanding how people who
cannot communicate normally react to jokes.”
authors believe they may be able to use this research to help discover
whether someone in a vegetative state can experience positive emotions.
Tristan Bekinschtein, lead author of the paper, said: “We’ve previously
used fMRI to detect language comprehension in vegetative state patients
who can’t communicate in any other way. This study shows we could now
use similar methods to look for positive emotions in these patients.
This is very important for the families and friends of these patients,
who want to know whether they can still experience pleasure and ‘laugh’,
despite their adversity.”
Susan Gathercole, director of the MRC CBSU, said: “This project
demonstrates how even what might seem like idiosyncratic aspects of
human experience, such as being amused, can be understood using the
tools of neuroscience. There is a serious side to this. Being unable to
take pleasure in everyday activities is a common symptom of depression.
This research is an important part of the Medical Research Council’s
commitment to explaining how the brain generates the experience of
emotions and, ultimately, helping treat emotional problems.”
SOURCE: Medical Research Council