They say laughter is good for the soul. But, as this ScienCentral News video reports, scientists have found out how the brain responds to a good joke.
Laugh It Up
What's happening in your brain when you find something funny? Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that what makes us laugh also activates the reward mechanism in the brain.
"For the first time we know that the reward centers of the brain are explicitly involved in perception of humor," says Allan Reiss, psychiatry professor at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory and co-director of the Center for Brain and Behavior at Packard Children's Hospital.
Previously, little was known about what goes on in your brain while you're finding something funny. "While humor clearly involves some aspect of emotion, we felt that other neural systems also must be involved," says Reiss. "In particular, most human beings are 'drawn' to humor; it feels good to be around it —we seem to feel rewarded. We went looking for the reward center [in the brain] because it was our own theory that humor is pleasure." The reward centers of the brain include: the nucleus accumbens or NAcc, which is involved in the rewarding feelings that follow monetary gain or the use of some addictive drugs; the ventral tegmental area, involved in the rewarding effects of drugs and alcohol; and the amygdala, which regulates fear and emotion. Dysfunction in the amygdala has been implicated in disorders such as depression.