Neural correlates of humor detection and appreciation

Neuroimage. 2004 Mar;21(3):1055-60. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.10.017.


Humor is a uniquely human quality whose neural substrates remain enigmatic. The present report combined dynamic, real-life content and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to dissociate humor detection ("getting the joke") from humor appreciation (the affective experience of mirth). During scanning, subjects viewed full-length episodes of the television sitcoms Seinfeld or The Simpsons. Brain activity time-locked to humor detection moments revealed increases in left inferior frontal and posterior temporal cortices, whereas brain activity time-locked to moments of humor appreciation revealed increases in bilateral regions of insular cortex and the amygdala. These findings provide evidence that humor depends critically upon extant neural systems important for resolving incongruities (humor detection) and for the expression of affect (humor appreciation).

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Head Movements / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Wit and Humor as Topic / psychology*