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J Neurosci. 2012 Feb 1;32(5):1784-90. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4172-11.2012.

Neural correlates of humor detection and appreciation in children.

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  • 1Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Humor is a vital component of human well-being. Neuroimaging studies conducted with adults indicate that humor activates specific brain regions, including the temporo-occipito-parietal junction (TOPJ), involved in incongruity resolution, and mesolimbic regions, involved in reward processing. However, no study to date has used neuroimaging to examine humor in typically developing children. Here, we illuminate the neural network involved in the detection and appreciation of humor in childhood. Fifteen typically developing children (ages, 6-12 years) were invited to watch and respond to video clips while neural activity was imaged with a 3T GE Discovery MR750 scanner. Before presentation during functional imaging, the clips were evaluated by age-matched controls and were representative of three categories: Funny, Positive (enjoyable but not funny), and Neutral (not intended to evoke any emotional response). We found TOPJ and mesolimbic activation in children's response to humor, suggesting these regions may form a humor-essential neural network already present in childhood. Furthermore, in a novel comparison of Funny to Positive stimuli, we found that bilateral TOPJ activation may be specific to humor processing and not part of a general constellation of neural activity in response to reward. Finally, we observed greater activation in the inferior frontal gyrus and nucleus accumbens in younger participants, indicating humor activation intensity changes during development. By providing a crucial link in studying the neurodevelopment of humor processing across the lifespan, our findings contribute valuable information about the evolution of how children understand their world.

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