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 Researchers simplify tiny structures' construction drip by drip
12.11.2018 | Princeton University, Engineering School

nachricht Mandibular movement monitoring may help improve oral sleep apnea devices
06.11.2018 | Elsevier

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: Nonstop Tranport of Cargo in Nanomachines

Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.

Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Optical Coherence Tomography: German-Japanese Research Alliance hosted Medical Imaging Conference

19.11.2018 | Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nonstop Tranport of Cargo in Nanomachines

20.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Researchers find social cultures in chimpanzees

20.11.2018 | Life Sciences

When AI and optoelectronics meet: Researchers take control of light properties

20.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>