People With Brain Injury To Frontal Lobe Don't Get Punch Lines -- Prefer Slapstick Humor!

A new study has found that people with damage to the right frontal lobe of the brain have trouble getting punch lines and show a preference for slapstick humor.

The findings are reported in a Rotman Research Institute/University of Toronto study to be published in the April issue of the international journal Brain. The Rotman is part of Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto and is ranked among the top brain research institutes in the world.

The study is the first to show that the frontal lobe plays a pre-eminent role in our ability to appreciate humor and have a good belly laugh. Previous studies have implicated the right hemisphere and frontal lobes in general.

"We always thought of humor as a defining human attribute, but an intangible part of our personality," says Dr. Prathiba Shammi, a graduate of the University of Toronto's department of psychology. "Now we know humor can be tested and scientifically scrutinized."

Dr. Shammi led the study, which was her doctoral thesis, with supervision from Dr. Donald Stuss, director of the Rotman Research Institute, vice-president of research at Baycrest, and professor of psychology neurology and rehabilitation medicine at the University of Toronto.

Humor Study

Humor responses to written and verbal jokes, and cartoons, were compared with 31 consenting adults aged 18 to 70. Half the group had a brain injury (a single focal brain lesion to either the frontal or nonfrontal regions) caused by stroke, tumor or surgical removal. Their responses were measured against a normal control group comparable in gender, age and education.

The study found that people with right anterior frontal damage had the most disrupted ability to appreciate written and verbal jokes -- and funny cartoons -- compared to the normal control group and people with focal lesions elsewhere in the brain. Individuals with right frontal damage chose wrong punch lines to written jokes and did not smile or laugh as muc

Contact: Steven de Sousa
University of Toronto

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