Neuroscientists–normally a reserved group–were laughing at William M. Kelley's presentation. He wasn't upset, however. The researcher had just shown the scientists a clip from the sitcom Seinfeld to illustrate how his group investigates the brain's response to humor.
With the aid of Jerry Seinfeld and his friends, as well as the animated characters of the cartoon The Simpsons, Kelley and his colleagues have found that different brain regions spark with activity when a person gets a joke versus when he or she reacts to it.
"Humor is a significant part of what makes us unique as human beings," says Kelley, a neuroscientist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. He presented his group's brain-imaging data last week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Despite humor's appeal, few researchers have studied its neural basis. Last year,