Editorial Roundup for Tuesday — November 15, 2005

• Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk: Now that’s funny!


Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk: Now that’s funny!

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 14, 200

At long last, science may have solved one of life’s most enduring mysteries: why men — most of them, at least — think the Three Stooges are hilarious, and why most women leave the room at the sound of the first “Nyuk.”

According to a new story in that always wacky on-line journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, men and women use the same parts of the brain to process humor. But the left pre-frontal cortex is more engaged in women, suggesting a greater emphasis on language and executive processing. Also, the women’s nucleus accumbens, which is part of the brain’s mesolimbic reward center, lights up with unexpected pleasure when the punch line is revealed.

To which we can only say, “Oh? A wise guy, eh?”

“It doesn’t take a lot of analytical machinery to think someone getting poked in the eye is funny,” said Allan L. Reiss of Stanford University, who led the research team. Women tend to analyze humor more than men, and thus feel more rewarded when their brains decided something is humor.

The Stanford study hooked up volunteers to magnetic resonance imaging machines and then showed them humorous cartoons, monitoring their physiological responses to the jokes. Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punchline of the cartoon, said Dr. Reiss. So when they got to the joke’s punch-line, they were more pleased about it.

Thus, when a man sees Curly walk onto the set carrying a 2×4, eons of male evolutionary humor coding (except in Kansas) have prepared him to anticipate that Curly will bash Moe in the head with it with a satisfying “whock,” causing Moe to retaliate by poking Larry in the eye (“boinka”) and that Larry’s head will then bounce (“thwock”) into Curly’s, so he immediately convulses with laughter.

The woman, meanwhile, is analyzing the scene: “Let’s see, the bald gentleman with the board is obviously preparing to build some shelves for his wife’s ironstone platter collection, but accidentally bumps the gentlemen with the bangs, who is in a terrible temper and resorts to physical retaliation by poking the frizzy-haired gentleman in the eye, whereupon the frizzy-haired gentleman’s head reverberates off the bald gentleman’s head and the shelves for the platters don’t get built. What’s funny about that?”

Thus does science increase mankind’s store of knowledge.

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