The Neuroscience of Comedy

There is one essential condition required in comedy: “some kind of incongruity between two elements […], resolved in a playful or unexpected way”.

That’s according to a fairly comprehensive article summarising the neuroscience research conducted to discover more about the phenomenon of why we find things funny (or not).

Of particular interest was how we react differently to certain types of jokes depending on our sex and on our personality type:

  • Women use more language-based decoding than men–this takes longer.
  • Extroverts receive greater neural rewards from comedy than neurotics.
  • ‘Experience seekers’ react to specific types of comedy more than others: they prefer ‘nonsense’ jokes to resolvable jokes (the latter is technically called “incongruity-resolution humour”).

The crux: a joke’s content seems to be secondary to how it is solved (neurologically speaking) if you’re targeting a certain audience:

Although you might expect the subject matter – music or politics, for example – to determine joke preference, [researcher Andrea Samson] found that it is the way a joke is solved that is most important. “The logic by which the incongruity is resolved matters most, in terms of what kind of person a joke appeals to,” she says.

via Arts and Letter Daily