Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Humor is a unique ability in human beings. Suls [A two-stage model for the appreciation of jokes and cartoons. In P. E. Goldstein & J. H. McGhee (Eds.), The psychology of humour. Theoretical perspectives and empirical issues. New York: Academic Press, 1972, pp. 81–100] proposed a two-stage model of humor: detection and resolution of incongruity. Incongruity is generated when a prediction is not confirmed in the final part of a story. To comprehend humor, it is necessary to revisit the story, transforming an incongruous situation into a funny, congruous one. Patient and neuroimaging studies carried out until now lead to different outcomes. In particular, patient studies found that right brain-lesion patients have difficulties in humor comprehension, whereas neuroimaging studies suggested a major involvement of the left hemisphere in both humor detection and comprehension. To prevent activation of the left hemisphere due to language processing, we devised a nonverbal task comprising cartoon pairs. Our findings demonstrate activation of both the left and the right hemispheres when comparing funny versus nonfunny cartoons. In particular, we found activation of the right inferior frontal gyrus (BA 47), the left superior temporal gyrus (BA 38), the left middle temporal gyrus (BA 21), and the left cerebellum. These areas were also activated in a nonverbal task exploring attribution of intention [Brunet, E., Sarfati, Y., Hardy-Bayle, M. C., & Decety, J. A PET investigation of the attribution of intentions with a nonverbal task. Neuroimage, 11, 157–166, 2000]. We hypothesize that the resolution of incongruity might occur through a process of intention attribution. We also asked subjects to rate the funniness of each cartoon pair. A parametric analysis showed that the left amygdala was activated in relation to subjective amusement. We hypothesize that the amygdala plays a key role in giving humor an emotional dimension.