Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.
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There’s truth in the maxim ‘laughter is a drug’. A comic cartoon fired up the same brain centre as a shot of cocaine, researchers are reporting.
A team at Stanford University in California asked lab mates, spouses and friends to select the wittiest newspaper cartoons from a portfolio. They showed the winning array to 16 volunteers while peering inside their heads by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The cartoons activated the same reward circuits in the brain that are tickled by cocaine, money or a pretty face, the neuroscientists found. One brain region in particular, the nucleus accumbens, lit up seconds after a rib-tickler but remained listless after a lacklustre cartoon.
The nucleus accumbens is awash with the feelgood chemical dopamine. The region’s buzz may explain the euphoria that follows a good joke, the team suggests. “Intuitively, it makes sense,” agrees Bill Kelley, who studies humour at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
References: Mobbs, D., Greicius, M.D., Abdel-Azim, E., Menon, V. & Reiss, A. L. Humor modulates the mesolimbic reward centers. Neuron, 40, 1041 – 1048, (2003).
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