Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Gender differences are a laughing matter, Stanford brain study shows

08.11.2005


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:
http://www.stanford.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

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: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers invent tiny, light-powered wires to modulate brain's electrical signals

21.02.2018 | Life Sciences

The “Holy Grail” of peptide chemistry: Making peptide active agents available orally

21.02.2018 | Life Sciences

Atomic structure of ultrasound material not what anyone expected

21.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>