July 2013
Volume 13, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   July 2013
The Neural Response to Visual Insight and Humor
Author Affiliations
  • Ori Amir
    Psychology, University of Southern California
  • Irving Biederman
    Psychology, University of Southern California\nNeuroscience, University of Southern California
  • Zhuangjun Wang
    Neuroscience, University of Southern California
  • Xiaokun Xu
    Psychology, University of Southern California
Journal of Vision July 2013, Vol.13, 907. doi:https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.907
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      Ori Amir, Irving Biederman, Zhuangjun Wang, Xiaokun Xu; The Neural Response to Visual Insight and Humor. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):907. https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.907.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The pattern of neural and behavioral activation to a visual image can differ markedly based on the image’s interpretation. Subjects were scanned while they viewed simple drawings that were uninterpretable until a description was presented that provided either: a) a solution to an unusual view ("insight") of a single object, b) a highly humorous interpretation of the image that linked remote concepts, or c) a (control) surface description of the drawing’s shape that elicited neither insight nor humor. Biederman & Vessel (2006) proposed that activity in the latter stages of the ventral pathway that are rich in µ-opioid receptors and project to dominergic classical reward pathways could account for spontaneous visual selectivity and pleasure. Compared with descriptions (minus controls) that resolved unusual views, humorous descriptions elicited 3X greater activation in later ventral and classical reward pathways as well as the temporal poles and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Increased activations in the more anterior temporal areas may reflect the activity linking remote concepts typical of the humorous interpretations. Dopaminergic projections to OFC are activated only by unexpected rewards, so the unexpected linking of the concepts in a punchline may have elicited the pleasurable response. Activation in many of these regions was also positively correlated with the funniness ratings of the stimuli provided by the subjects in the scanner. This pattern of activations to unexpected linking of remote concepts may thus be the neural correlate of the experience of visual pleasure and humor, and, with less associative activity, the more modest joy of achieving an interpretation of a single visual concept.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013


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