The left and right hemispheres of the brain must work together to understand puns; the left processes the linguistics, and the right analyses the punchline’s double meaning

This Is Your Brain on Puns

Q. What do vegan zombies eat?

A. Graaaaaaaaaaaaains.

If that joke made you groan like the undead, thank your bilateral processing abilities. Researchers studying the neuroscience of puns say that understanding them, even the bad ones, requires cooperation between both sides of the brain. They published their research in the journal Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition.

Humor has a reputation for being transgressive, but all that boundary-pushing is only possible thanks to a system of internal rules. From knock-knock jokes to digs on someone’s mama, each class has its own standardized scaffolding. Some philosophers argue that humor itself depends on a formula: taking something familiar and giving it an unexpected—… Continue Reading (2 minute read)

15 thoughts on “The left and right hemispheres of the brain must work together to understand puns; the left processes the linguistics, and the right analyses the punchline’s double meaning”

  1. flipflop180

    And the corpus callosum rolls it eyes!

  2. bergmul

    Almost all brain processes use both hemispheres.

  3. ledditlememefaceleme

    Isn’t the inability to understand puns suddenly a symptom of alzehiemers? Or did I dream that or something?

  4. PDXBlueDogWizard

    Does that mean someone with split brain / callosal syndrome just wouldn’t get them? Unless of course they HEARD that pun before and managed to just recall the memory of it being a pun

  5. crashlanding87

    It’s not so much that the left and right brain are working together here, but that onthe language centers of the brain (which happen to be on the left) are working with a range of specific brain regions (that happen to be spread between the left and the right) to understand puns. Pretty much everything is like this.

    The ‘left brain right brain’ idea is incorrect. Its more accurately represented as a whole bunch of specific brain regions organised throughout.

    The visual center of the brain is the whole back of the brain, over both sides. Language is mainly two little nubs called Broca’s area and Wernike’s area (after the scientists who found them) – both are in the left, but one is by your temple, the other is further back. Sensations from your hand are received in a specific spot, and messages to your hand are initiated from another specific spot.

  6. PapaRacoon

    So tabloid headlines are a good brain workout!

  7. joereadsstuff

    I don’t punderstand.

  8. nio_nl

    You might be right, but if you’re not left, it’s just boring.

    No wait, the other way around.

  9. rabbitclyro

    If you are interested in this kind of thing I’d highly recommend the Master and his Emissary by Iain Mcgilchrist. Probably the most insightful book I’ve ever read.

  10. Cuntable

    Oh, so that’s why I don#t get puns.

  11. huhwhuh

    So when our brain understands a pun, the left hemisphere is high fiving the right side?

  12. crispdrywhite

    The left and right half of your brain thing is fictitious. This is not new information

  13. lirio2u

    I love this! Thank you for the post.

  14. koensch57

    that’s a pity for the people who got a lobotomy, they never get the punchline.

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