Who is more likely to enjoy a good joke?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The difference
between the sexes has long been a rich source of humor. Now it turns
out, humor is one of the differences.

Women seem more likely than men to enjoy a good joke, mainly because they don’t always expect it to be funny.

“The
long trip to Mars or Venus is hardly necessary to see that men and
women often perceive the world differently,” a research team led by Dr.
Allan L. Reiss of the Stanford University School of Medicine reports in
Tuesday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But
they were surprised when their studies of how the male and female
brains react to humor showed that women were more analytical in their
response, and felt more pleasure when they decided something really was
funny.

“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.”

Women were subjecting humor to more analysis with the aim of
determining if it was indeed funny, Reiss said in a telephone interview.


Study may aid understanding of depression

Men are using the same network in the brain, but less so, he said, men are less discriminating.

“It
doesn’t take a lot of analytical machinery to think someone getting
poked in the eye is funny,” he commented when asked about humor like
the Three Stooges.

While there is a lot of overlap between how
men and women process humor, the differences can help account for the
fact that men gravitate more to one-liners and slapstick while women
tend to use humor more in narrative form and stories, Reiss said.

The
funnier the cartoon the more the reward center in the women’s brain
responded, unlike men who seemed to expect the cartoons to be funny
from the beginning, the researchers said.

The new insight could improve understanding of such conditions as depression, the researchers said.

“The
bottom line is that I think it contributes to the foundation of
understanding individual differences in humans,” Reiss said. Humor is
used by humans to cope with stress and to establish relationships, and
it can even help strengthen the immune system.

Reiss’ team
studied the response of 10 women and 10 men to 70 black-and-while
cartoons, asking them to rate the jokes for how funny they were. While
the volunteers were looking at the cartoons their brains were being
studied with an MRI to determine what parts of the brains were
responding.

In large part, men and women had similar responses to
humor, using parts of the brain responsible for the structure and
context of language and for understanding juxtaposition.

In
women, however, some areas were more active than in men. These included
the left prefrontal cortex, which the researchers said suggests a
greater emphasis on language and executive processing, and the nucleus
accumbens, or NAcc, which is part of the reward center.

Reiss
said he was surprised at the NAcc finding. The researchers theorized
that because women were being more analytical they weren’t necessarily
expecting the cartoons to be as funny as did the men.

Then, when they saw the punch line, the reward center lit up, indicating something pleasant and unexpected.

Arnie
Cann, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina,
Charlotte, commented: “Given the findings in the current study, that
women appear to use more executive functions, it could be that they are
more engaged in scrutinizing the humor to decide if it fits their views
on what is acceptable humor. Once they decide the humor is OK, they
could be experiencing a relief-like response.”

That would fit in
with the finding that women experience more reward from the joke, said
Cann, who was not part of Reiss’ research team.

Reiss’ research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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