Humor and the sexes

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: April 13th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Let’s start with some brain teasers.

What does a brain do when it sees a friend across the street? It gives a brain wave!

Here’s another: What kind of fish performs brain surgery? …A neuro-STURGEON!

Speaking of brains, and this is no punch line, how your brain reacted to these jokes depends on whether you’re a man or woman. New research confirms what some of us have long suspected… that the brains of men and women react differently when we find something funny.

Stanford University scientists are using sophisticated imaging technology to watch how different portions of the brain light up in response to different stimulations, including humor. The researchers previously found that the brain’s reward center was explicitly involved in perception of humor. Now, their studies confirm that men and women perceive humor differently… and it shows up in their prefrontal cortexes. That’s the region in the front of the brain.

In response to humor, women seem to light up or activate that part of the brain more so than men do. This brain region also is associated with processing language and making judgments. This difference is consistent with current scientific literature suggesting that women may be more language-oriented, while men tend to be more visually oriented.

This study isn’t just about laughter, though. The research could help scientists understand how humor helps us adapt and cope with stressful situations. That could lead to better strategies for being resilient or stress-proof.

And that … is no laughing matter.