Can brain damage affect our ability to enjoy a good joke?

Smart AgingYes, according to a Baycrest study. The good news is that the ability to enjoy slapstick humour remains intact. Research indicates that an injury to the right frontal lobe in the brain may make it difficult for some people to get the punch line of a joke or understand a cartoon, but they may still respond to slapstick humour.

“Humour is not only an attribute of our personality but is also something that can be scientifically tested,” explains Dr. Stuss, senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest.

“People with right anterior frontal damage — due to a stroke, tumour, traumatic brain injury or other neurological disorders — have the most disrupted ability to appreciate written and verbal jokes compared to people without brain damage or people with damage elsewhere in the brain.” They prefer slapstick humour which has surprising but illogical endings, the hallmarks of such acts as The Three Stooges.

“This reinforces the evidence that the right frontal lobe region plays an important role in higher cognitive functions such as humour, emotions and personality,” says Dr. Stuss. “It receives information from almost all other brain regions and integrates multiple types of information.”

To produce or understand humour requires several cognitive processes working together: working memory (holding a piece of information in mind while you manipulate it); cognitive shifting (looking at a situation in different ways from different perspectives); and abstract thinking.

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