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 Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht The personality factor: How to foster the sharing of research data
06.09.2017 | ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft

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: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>