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What Our Brains Think Is Funny


April Fools’ Day reminds us to think about the lighter side of life and the age-old question: Why are some things funny? Now the neuroscientists have gotten into the game and there is some serious (but still entertaining) research on the topic. One key element of humor relies on the fact that our brains are always trying to predict what is coming next. We know, in advance, just how someone is going to finish a sentence we are listening to (or at least how we would finish it). We predict – in milliseconds – what a word is based on the phonemes (language sounds) it starts with. A joke fools us, by disappointing our brain’s predictions. As the researcher, Matthew Hurley, explains it, “The surprise must arise from realizing that we made a mistake as a result of implicit assumptions, not explicit thought, or from misunderstanding information that is introduced covertly rather than explicitly.” It also can’t be a surprise that would make us sad or angry, of course.

Read about the Research (and enjoy the jokes!)



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