Garden-paths, red lights and crossroads: On finding our way to understanding the cognitive mechanisms underlying jokes

  • Dynel M
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The present study builds on our previous study within the framework of Wyer and Collin's comprehension-elaboration theory of humor processing. In this study, an attempt is made to segregate the neural substrates of incongruity detection and incongruity resolution during the comprehension of verbal jokes. Although a number of fMRI studies have investigated the incongruity-resolution process, the differential neurological substrates of comprehension are still not fully understood. The present study utilized an event-related fMRI design incorporating three conditions (unfunny, nonsensical and funny) to examine distinct brain regions associated with the detection and resolution of incongruities. Stimuli in the unfunny condition contained no incongruities; stimuli in the nonsensical condition contained irresolvable incongruities; and stimuli in the funny condition contained resolvable incongruities. The results showed that the detection of incongruities was associated with greater activation in the right middle temporal gyrus and right medial frontal gyrus, and the resolution of incongruities with greater activation in the left superior frontal gyrus and left inferior parietal lobule. Further analysis based on participants' rating scores provided converging results. Our findings suggest a three-stage neural circuit model of verbal humor processing: incongruity detection and incongruity resolution during humor comprehension and inducement of the feeling of amusement during humor elaboration.

Author-supplied keywords

  • crossroads mechanism
  • garden-path mechanism
  • incongruity
  • joke mechanisms
  • red-light mechanism
  • resolution

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  • Marta Dynel

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