The activation of theory of mind network differentiates between point-to-self and point-to-other verbal jokes: an fMRI study

Neurosci Lett. 2014 Apr 3:564:32-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2014.01.059. Epub 2014 Feb 7.


The mind-reading hypothesis of humor and the inner eye theory of laughter both claim that readers' mentalizing about characters in jokes is essential for perceiving humor. On the basis of this notion, we hypothesized that point-to-other verbal jokes (in which one character said funny things about the other character) induced more theory of mind (ToM) processing than point-to-self verbal jokes (in which one character said funny things about him/herself to the other character). Our hypothesis was tested by comparing percent signal changes of these two conditions in six core components of the ToM neural network. A whole-brain analysis was also conducted. Results from both the region of interest (ROI) analysis and the whole-brain analysis show that theory of mind network is more activated when subjects read point-to-other jokes than when they read point-to-self jokes. Moreover, the whole-brain results provide support for the viewpoint that the right hemisphere, especially the right frontal lobe, is important in ToM and humor processing.

Keywords: Humor; Theory of mind (ToM); Verbal jokes; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Wit and Humor as Topic*
  • Young Adult