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How Does Your Brain Understand Puns?

Puns are a witty play on words that have multiple meanings. It is a figure of speech that has been around since 1669. There are different kinds of puns and they have been widely used throughout history.

Researchers in the University of Windsor conducted a study on puns. They noted that the left hemisphere is the linguistic space, and is responsible for understanding the word. While the right hemisphere will later reveal the word’s dual meaning.

Details on the Research

The neuroscientists in the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada were curious on how our brains understood puns. There seems to be an obvious two-step process that works in order for us to understand a pun.

The researchers conducted a study with a bunch of volunteers. They were brought into the lab and made to read a series of easy puns on a computer screen.

The puns that were shown on the left side of the screen were processed by the right side of the brain, whereas the rest showed up on the left. (Source: Scientific American)

What are the Results of the Study?

The study showed that the volunteers were able to understand the puns that were shown on the right side of the screen which is processed by the left side of the brain faster.

The co-author of the study, Lori Buchanan said “The left hemisphere is the linguistic hemisphere, so it is the one that processes most of the language aspects of the pun, with the right hemisphere kicking in a bit later.” (Source: Mental Floss)

It must be noted that to understand the pun fully, both hemispheres need to work together. The left side introduces the sentence, and the right side analyzes the punchline. (Source: Scientific American)

Are There Different Kinds of Puns?

Yes, there are actually five different kinds of puns. They are classified according to their intentional effect on the statement said.

1. Homophonic Puns

These puns make use of homonyms – words that have the same sound but have different meanings.

Example: The butcher did not want to place a bet. The steaks were too high.

2. Compound Pun

This contains more than one pun in a single sentence.

Example: Never scam in the jungle, cheetahs are always spotted.

3. Homographic Pun

Also known as a heteronymic pun, plays on words that are spelled the same way but have more than one meaning. Since these puns rely on spelling, they are visual and need to be read and understood.

Example: Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

4. Visual Pun

Also known as a graphological pun does not utilize phonetic writing. It can be understood through imagery, graphics or through logos.

Example: An image of a fork in the middle of the street. This is a common depiction of the fork on the road metaphor we are very familiar with.

5. Recursive Pun

This is basically a two-part pun. The individual needs to understand the context of the pun for the it to make any sense.

Example: The phrase May the Fourth be with you requires you to understand the Star Wars movies and the iconic phrase May the force be with you as well as the fact that May 4th is known as Star Wars Day. (Source: Masterclass)

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