For Kids, Laughter Really May Be the Best
TUESDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Specific areas of
children's brains that are activated by humor have been identified
by researchers in a first-of-a-kind study.
The findings, published Feb. 1 in the
Journal of Neuroscience, will provide a base for understanding how humor and other positive emotions can affect a child's well-being, according to the Stanford University School of Medicine team.
"Humor is a very important component of emotional health, maintaining relationships, developing cognitive [brain] function and perhaps even medical health," senior study author Dr. Allan Reiss, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research at Stanford, said in a university news release.
A strong sense of humor is an important part of positive emotion
and may help children to be more resilient, he noted.
"In particular, we think a balanced and consistent sense of humor may help children negotiate the difficult period of pre-adolescence and adolescence," Reiss said.
The researchers used functional MRI to scan the brains of 15
children, aged 6 to 12, while they watched short video clips that
were categorized as funny, positive or neutral. The positive clips
were rewarding to watch but not funny. The neutral clips were
neither rewarding nor funny.
The brain scans showed that the funny videos activated two
regions of the children's brains that also respond to humor in
adults. However, these circuits aren't as developed in
Humor activated the children's mesolimbic regions, which process
rewards, and the temporal-occipital-parietal junction, which
processes perceived incongruities. Incongruities are things that go
together that represent opposites (for example, many clowns
emerging from a tiny car).
The positive videos activated the reward-processing area but not
the area that processes incongruity. This suggests that incongruity
-- a surprise for the brain -- is an important factor in humor, the
"Negative emotional states such as depression or anxiety are compelling to study, but you can't completely understand why a child has emotional stability or instability until you look at both sides of the coin," Reiss said in the news release. "This work is setting the stage for helping us look at how humor predicts resilience and well-being."
The American Psychiatric Association offers an overview of
children's mental health.
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