A Bad Joke Won’t Fool The Brain

in Article, News, Opinion, Pop Culture, Uncategorized
April 15th, 2014

LaughterI think I’m funny. Some people say I’m funny. But when the moment presents itself where its my time to shine, all lights on me, this ‘one’ is going to be a knee slapper…nope, not so much. The first time I realized I wasn’t funny was in the eleventh grade in my calculus class. My teacher’s name was Mr. Butke and he easily is ranked in my top 3 ‘all-time’ of the math professors I’ve encountered in my lifetime. He had a mustache that covered his mouth and you never knew whether he was smiling, smirking, or grimacing at you. It kept you guessing, I liked that. He also presented stories of how he slayed cobras in Kenyan villages while pursuing a multi-purpose cure for malaria, encephalitis’ of sorts, and maybe AIDS. Bottom line, he was memorable and his stage presence resonated with my classmates and I.

The class had been broken up to work on some classwork of the previously taught material. Of course I paired up with one of my best friends and an additional tandem of girls joined. Work quickly turned into typical hushed social conversations so as not to give our positions away as bored students. Ultimately, the opportunity presented itself. This was it, that Spongebob Squarepants line I’d been saving up for years, finally I’m ready! One of the girls set it up and BAM BLANG BOOM I cut her off mid-sentence, nearly jumping out of my seat, paper and pencil swiped onto the floor from excitement: INSERT glorious one liner. Nothing but crickets + my friend fighting the battle to compose himself for social standards in front of two girls vs. laughing at me in shame. Long story short, ten minutes later when the class had come together again, my friend delivers the same exact line, and the whole class erupts! Erupts doesn’t even do it justice. I mean the same tandem of girls were crying, Mr. Butke’s mustache was dancing, the popular kid groups nodded in respect, and I’m pretty sure at least 2 kids peed themselves from lack of control. With my head rested on my hand, elbow to the desk, eyes rolling, that’s when I learned that I wasn’t funny.

Despite my personal problem, neuroscience has recently struck again with another bit of breaking news into the human brain. This time: Research at the University of London recently found that there are clear differences between how brains respond to genuine vs. fake laughter. A blind study led by Dr. Carolyn McGettigan recorded the brain responses of participants as they listened to the same people produce genuine vs. fake laughter via YouTube videos. Brain scans recording neurological responses showed participants ability to distinguish between both types of laughter but also described attempts to break down why fake laughter wasn’t genuine. For example, fake laughter activated regions of cortex associated with mentalization in an attempt to understand the other person’s emotional or mental states. Additionally, regions associated with sensation and control movements (in this case facial) provided additional tips into the sincerity of the laughter in the videos. Thus as listeners, trying out how a laugh may feel if we produced it ourselves might be useful for understanding its meaning and cause.

Well I’d say that’s close to a 50:50 ratio of my life vs. Neuroscience. I like both, but if you have a personal opinion, please leave it in the commentary. Nevertheless, the brain strikes again. Who would’ve thought that humor was a significant quality from an evolutionary perspective. I guess funny cavemen were better suited to find partners. But really what was there to laugh about back then, everything was trying to kill you. Granted, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble did pretty well for themselves and they were funny. Maybe if I eat more fruity or cocoa pebbles, I’ll become funnier. Maybe I should stop trying so hard. Argh, who cares! The brain knows whats funny and that’s that.

Matthew Jahnke


Fake vs. Genuine Laughter – Science Daily

Laughter and The Brain – Neuroscience For Kids

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