Monday, February 22, 2010

Humor research

Very interesting article: The comedy circuit: When your brain gets the joke.

So what is a joke, exactly? Most theories agree that one condition is essential: there must be some kind of incongruity between two elements within the joke, which can be resolved in a playful or unexpected way.

It was interesting to find out that it is the way the brain solves the joke that predicts preferences. Especially to find out that resolvable jokes actually create more brain activity than the nonsense jokes many people try to pull off as being more sophisticated:

. . . When comparing MRI scans of people as they viewed both straight and nonsense humour, [Samson] found that straight humour evoked significantly more brain activity than a surreal joke in most volunteers. "Making sense out of opposed scripts and integrating this information seems to be a more complex process than simply laughing about nonsense," she says.

So much for sophistication in general. However, there was a subset of people whose brains did react more strongly to the surreal stuff - experience seekers "defined by a desire to pursue novel sensations, stimulation and experiences, whether it's through art, travel, music or an unconventional living style." It is this subset that probably gave rise to the idea that surreal humour is sophisticated humor. However, like most things, the generalization fails when applied rigorously. It's like saying "puns are the lowest form of humor". Some puns really are lame, but there are some very clever ones, which required a good degree of intellect to pick up on. In a way, punsters are like fighters: the crude ones are the least skilled, most obvious, and often miss their intended mark, while a great punster is like a ninja whose attack hits the victim's awareness moments after it has been delivered.

Another thing that dictates humor preferences is our degree to emphathize with others. Many jokes rely on the "Theory of Mind" - the ability to see something from another's point of view. These are the type of jokes that people with autism don't get. On the other hand, autistics love visual puns, which are more abstract.

Sidenote: While it takes longer for women to decide whether a joke's funny or not, they get a greater sense of reward from the limbic system.

What humor style do you have? is blog post about a study on types of humor. To summarize the summary, here is the stripped down list from Dr. Shock's blog:

Affiliative, use of humor to amuse others and facilitate relationships

Self enhancing, use of humor to cope with stress and maintain a humorous outlook during times of difficulty

Aggressive, use of sarcastic, manipulative, put-down, or disparaging humor

Self-defeating, use of humor for excessive self-disparagement, ingratiation, or defensive denial

Personally, I think most of us use all the types, but there is no denying that we tend to favor one over the other. Based on the feedback I get from people I interact with regularly, my preferred type is probably "self-enhancing". Or at least those are the jokes I am best at delivering. I often fall flat while delivering affiliative jokes and my memory suggests that I'm mediocre at delivering the aggressive or self-destructive jokes.

No comments: