2005-11-09

Science: Cartoons Suit Women More

Women get more of a buzz out of cartoons, a brain-imaging study has found, with their brains feeling more rewarded by a funny joke than those of men. Women and men are often perceived as having differences in their senses of humour but, until now, there had been no 'neurological' evidence for such suspicions. The new brain scanning study showed that although men and women tended to agree on which of the single-panel cartoons they were shown were funny, they processed the humour differently in their brains In particular, women appear to have a lower expectation that the cartoon will be funny than men.
'Women appear to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon. 'So when they got to the joke's punch line, they were more pleased about it,' says Mr.Allan Reiss, one of the study's authors, at 'Stanford University School of Medicine' in California, USA.
The group of 10 women and 10 men were shown a series of 'black and white' cartoons. They rated the cartoons for funniness while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) identified the active areas of their brains. The level of activity in those areas was measured using a technique that analyses the level of oxygenation in the blood Mr.Reiss, Eiman Azim and colleagues found the men and women shared many similarities: they mostly found the same cartoons funny or unfunny; they activated the same semantic and language processing regions of the brain; and the response times for finding a cartoon funny was the same. However, they were surprised to find differences in the part of the brain known as the 'reward centre'. The 'nucleus accumbens', part of the 'mesolimbic reward centre', is a 'dopamine-rich' area that is most strongly activated when a reward -- in this case, a funny joke -- is unexpected. The team discovered that when women found a cartoon funny, their 'reward centre' was more active than for men, suggesting the females' expectation of being amused was lower. But when men found a cartoon unfunny, they showed de-activation in their reward centre, suggesting disappointment. Azim suggests the differences may be the result of the genders having different ways of processing emotional information, and that better understanding of these differences could provide insight into mental illnesses that affect one gender more than the other, such as depression. Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0408456102) 'Women get a bigger buzz from cartoons', Gaia Vince, Yahoo! News, 2005-11-08, Tu

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