Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Gender differences are a laughing matter, Stanford brain study shows


Need more evidence that men and women are different? Look no further than the Sunday funnies. According to a new Stanford University School of Medicine study, gender affects the way a person’s brain responds to humor.

The first-of-its-kind imaging study showed that women activate the parts of the brain involved in language processing and working memory more than men when viewing funny cartoons. Women were also more likely to activate with greater intensity the part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings in response to new experiences.

"The results help explain previous findings suggesting women and men differ in how humor is used and appreciated," said Allan Reiss, MD, the Howard C. Robbins Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research. He added that the results, which appear in the Nov. 7 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to a better understanding of medical conditions such as depression and cataplexy.

Researchers know that a number of brain structures, including the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in language processing and memory, are involved in humor appreciation. In 2003, Reiss and colleagues showed for the first time that the brain’s mesolimbic reward center, which is responsible for the rewarding feelings that follow such events as monetary gain or cocaine use, is also activated by humor.

Past studies have shown gender differences in the use and appreciation of humor and the meaning and function of laughter, but no previous research has examined sex-specific differences in the brain’s response to humor.

During this study, 20 healthy adults (10 men and 10 women) viewed 70 black-and-white cartoons and then rated the cartoons on a one-to-10 "funniness scale." During the screenings, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor participants’ brain function. They then analyzed blood oxygenation-level-dependent signal activation, a measure of neural activity, in various parts of the brain.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that men and women share much of the same humor-response system; both use to a similar degree the part of the brain responsible for semantic knowledge and juxtaposition and the part involved in language processing. But they also found that some brain regions were activated more in women. These included the left prefrontal cortex, suggesting a greater emphasis on language and executive processing in women, and the nucleus accumbens, or NAcc, which is part of the mesolimbic reward center.

Reiss said he was taken off guard by the NAcc finding. After puzzling over it, he and his colleagues theorized that because the women in this study used more analytical machinery when deciphering humorous material, it signaled that they weren’t necessarily expecting the cartoons to be as rewarding as did the men. When a woman’s brain encountered the punch line, her reward center lit up. According to Reiss, the activation of this center not only signals the presence of something pleasant, but that the pleasure was unexpected.

"Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon," said Reiss. "So when they got to the joke’s punch line, they were more pleased about it."

The researchers also found that the funnier the cartoon, the more the reward center was activated in women. That was not the case in men who seemed to "expect" the cartoons to be funny from the start. If subsequent studies show that women’s reward center and other regions of the brain are more sensitive to emotional stimuli, including negative stimuli, that could help explain why depression strikes twice as many women as men, potentially leading to new therapies, Reiss said.

The results of the study also have potential implications for individuals who suffer from cataplexy, in which a sudden loss of motor control is precipitated by strong emotions, most notably humor.

In other findings, men and women showed no significant difference in the number of stimuli they rated as funny, nor how funny they found the humorous stimuli. Response time for both funny and unfunny cartoons was also similar, although women were quicker at identifying material they considered unfunny.

In a related study that also appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Reiss and his colleagues, including Dean Mobbs, now a PhD student at University College London, found that personality traits, such as extroversion and introversion, affect how humor is processed. "The combined results of these two studies suggest that humor taps into several neural systems associated with gender or personality and helps to explain individual differences in humor appreciation," said Reiss.

Michelle Brandt | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>