Humour is a unique human characteristic and has a complex role in many social interactions. A good joke triggers a cognitive juxtaposition of mental sets followed by an affective feeling of amusement but the mechanisms of these processes are not known. In a brief communication in March Nature Neuroscience a team from York University, Toronto, Canada, and University College London, offer a glimpse into how jokes are processed by the human brain.

Vinod Goel and Raymond Dolan scanned 14 right-handed normal subjects using event-related fMRI while they listened to two types of joke. The subjects rated whether they found the jokes amusing using a 'funniness' scale, but laughing was discouraged, to prevent movement in the scanner. While the subjects processed so-called semantic jokes ("What do engineers use for birth control?…Their personalities"), areas of their brain involved in the semantic processing of language were active (Nat Neurosci 2001,...

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