Humor Appreciation Involves Parametric and Synchronized Activity in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex and Hippocampus

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Humor perception is a ubiquitous phenomenon in human societies. In theories of humor perception, three factors, non-seriousness, social context, and incongruity, have been implicated in humor. In another theory, however, elaboration and reinterpretation of contexts are considered to play a role in eliciting humor. Although the neural correlates of humor appreciation have been investigated using neuroimaging methods, only a few studies have conducted such experiments under natural conditions. In the present study, two functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments, using a comedy movie as a stimulus, were conducted to investigate the neural correlates of humor under natural conditions. The subjects’ brain activity was measured while watching and enjoying a movie. In experiment 1, a parametric analysis showed that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and hippocampus/amygdala had a positive relationship with the subjective rating of funniness. In experiment 2, intersubject correlation was analyzed to investigate synchronized activity across all participants. Signal synchronization that paralleled increased funniness ratings was observed in the MPFC and hippocampus. Thus, it appears that both parametric and synchronized activity in the MPFC and hippocampus are important during humor appreciation. The present study has revealed the brain regions that are predominantly involved in humor sensation under natural condition.

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