Jokes activate same brain region as
cocaineHumour tickles drug
centre that gives hedonistic high
04 December 2003
|The nucleus accumbens is
awash with feelgood chemical dopamine|
There's truth in the maxim 'laughter is a drug'. A
comic cartoon fired up the same brain centre as a shot
of cocaine, researchers are reporting.
A team at Stanford University in California asked lab
mates, spouses and friends to select the wittiest
newspaper cartoons from a portfolio. They showed the
winning array to 16 volunteers while peering inside
their heads by functional magnetic resonance imaging
The cartoons activated the same reward circuits in
the brain that are tickled by cocaine, money or a pretty
face, the neuroscientists found1.
One brain region in particular, the nucleus accumbens,
lit up seconds after a rib-tickler but remained listless
after a lacklustre cartoon.
The nucleus accumbens is awash with the feelgood
chemical dopamine. The region's buzz may explain the
euphoria that follows a good joke, the team suggests.
"Intuitively, it makes sense," agrees Bill Kelley, who
studies humour at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New
Earlier investigations found that humour triggers
brain regions that work out a joke's language and
meaning, or those that control smiling and laughter.
Kelley, for example, has studied people's brains while
they watched episodes of television comedies Seinfeld
and The Simpsons. "It's surprising it's not consistent,"
Intuitively, it makes
A powerful fMRI machine and a particularly detailed
analysis may explain why the new study picked up
activity in the reward areas as well, suggests lead
researcher Allan Reiss.
Reiss hopes that the finding could help to diagnose
the early stages of depression - or show whether
antidepressants are taking effect - during which
people's appreciation of humour is altered. "That would
be a terrific way to use this type of work," he says.