"Humor on the Brain: The Funniest Words in English" by Jason Hensel

Go ahead, think of the funniest word you can, the one that makes you laugh every time you hear it. Got it? Was it one of these: Nitwit? Waddle? Bebop? Egghead? Twerp?

According to a study published in Behaviour Research, those are just a few of the funniest words in the English language. 

"A number of studies have taken to rating and creating databases of jokes in an effort to allow researchers disaggregate the various mechanisms that make them work," the researchers wrote. "A few studies have looked at single non-words, suggesting the absurdness of a non-word results in associated humor. None, to our knowledge, have focused on single English words."

The study consisted of 821 participants (average age 35, 58 percent female) who rated for humor 200 random words sampled from a collection of 5,000 words. Some of the words males rated as humorous included brand, corn, and weld, while some of the words females rated as humorous included giggle, humbug, and sweat. Both genders agreed that such words as fluff, prance, and tinker were humorous. 

"The aim of providing this data is to help enrich the resources available for understanding the cognitive, developmental, and applied aspects of humor," the researchers wrote.

To find out all the rest of the humorous words (and the not humorous ones), read "Humor norms for 4,997 English words."

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.

(Image: Jack Lyons/Creative Commons)


Humor on the Brain: AHA! The Relationship Between Insight, Improv, and Your Brain

Aha Moment What do you think of when I say DESERT and HUMPS?

Was your answer CAMEL?

If your answer wasn’t camel, you either misread desert as dessert and came up with a kinky alternative, or maybe you just need some brushing up on zoology. If your answer was indeed camel, then you have engaged in what some neuroscientists refer to as the "Aha Moment." How often do you experience that tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon where you can’t come up with a word, but as soon as you do, it’s this incredible burst of realization? That’s the "Aha Moment."

Research at the Center of Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas, along with scientists at Drexel University and Northwestern University, has found that the "Aha Moment" is a crucial form of creativity that allows you to understand a joke, clarify something confusing, or make a greater realization about yourself or others. More generally speaking, it's a form of insight. Those who are more insightful are actually better at blocking out irrelevant information so they can better direct their attention and prepare to solve problems analytically. These neurological differences are even seen during rest - so more insightful individuals naturally have greater activity in regions associated with language processing and attention.

Being able to integrate and reorganize all different elements in a situation subconsciously to solve a problem and make important innovations about a scene is a necessary component of improv and other forms of comedy. While we still can’t say for certain the directionality of the relationship between insight and improved brain activation for problem-solving and attention, it seems as though there may be a clear link between the insight you use in an improv scene and these neurological benefits. In other words, it seems you may be doing your brain some good every time you have an "Aha Moment" over a joke or the game in an improv scene.

Julie Schneider is a neuroscientist and graduate of the DCH improv training program. When she isn't working to finish her PhD, she enjoys traveling.

(Image: Jason Hensel)

Humor on the Brain: Smart People Like Sick Jokes

Bob's Burgers A recent study published in Cognitive Processing shows that people who like dark humor score higher on intelligence tests.

"The most surprising result is that subjects who show the highest values with respect to black humour preference and comprehension show the highest values with respect to intelligence, have higher education levels and show the lowest values regarding mood disturbance and aggression," the researchers wrote in the study.

The term "black humour" is used throughout the study, but it also goes by the phrases "dark humor," "sick jokes," or "gallows humor." Basically, these terms describe jokes that find humor in death, illness, handicaps, war, etc.

The Medical University of Vienna researchers had 156 participants (76 females, 80 males, average age 33) rate their enjoyment of 12 cartoons from The Black Book by Uli Stein. If you're curious what the sick jokes were, please refer to the study for a list of them (we can talk about our favorites in person).

The participants' verbal and non-verbal IQs were then tested, along with questions concerning their aggressiveness, education, and moods.

Three groups were identified, but age and gender ended up not being relevant. The group that showed the most appreciation and comprehension of dark humor also scored higher on verbal and non-verbal IQ tests, were less aggressive, more educated, and scored low on bad moods. The second group had the lowest dark humor enjoyment but moderately comprehended the jokes. They also exhibited the most negative mood of the groups and had the most aggression. The third group only moderately appreciated and comprehended the dark humor of the jokes. Their intelligent scores were average, and their moods were more positive, with moderate aggression.

"Black humour processing is seemingly a complex information-processing task that depends on cognitive and emotional aspects," the researchers wrote. "It can be hypothesized that these cognitive and emotional demands directly influence the mental operations underlying humour processing as they lead to an increased or decreased information-processing capacity but also facilitate the adapting of humour processing strategies in a quick and flexible way as humour processing is dependent on the content and structure of a joke."

In other words, the smartest minds understand the sickest jokes.

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program. He manages the DCH blog and performs with .f.a.c.e., the ’95 Bulls, and Bound Together.

(Image: Shannon Ramos/Creative Commons)

Humor on the Brain: Puns

I have a huge interest in brain science. I also have a huge interest in humor. I'm going to put those two together for a new series on this blog. It will explore the inner workings of what your brain is doing when it's creating or processing comedy. Maggie Austin

Let's start this series with everyone's favorite (or despised) comedic device: Puns. University of Windsor researchers recently published a study in Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition explaining how your right and left brain hemispheres work together when you hear a pun.

Study participants viewed a pun on one side of their visual fields so they would be processed first by the corresponding hemisphere (e.g., right eye = left hemisphere). They analyzed reaction time to find out the dominant hemisphere.

“The left hemisphere is the linguistic hemisphere, so it's the one that processes most of the language aspects of the pun, with the right hemisphere kicking in a bit later” Lori Buchanan, a psychology professor and co-author of the study, told Scientific American.

The teamwork of both hemispheres is what helps us understand jokes.

"Puns, as a form of word play, complete humor's basic formula: expectation plus incongruity equals laughter," Roni Jacobson reported for Scientific American.

Words can have multiple meanings, and it's the left hemisphere's job to interpret them in specific ways. It's the right hemisphere's job to help us understand other meanings for the words and then "get" the joke (often met with a groan).

While puns are funny (yes, yes they are), there can be a darker side to them: They could be the sign of a damaged brain. And for your brain, that's no laughing matter.

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program. He manages the DCH blog and performs with .f.a.c.e., the ’95 Bulls, and Bound Together.

What We're Loving: Long Descriptions, Short Descriptions, Pre-Teen Interests, Teen Interests, Our Lying Brains

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison shares his inspirations, Jonda Robinson rules middle school, Sarah Wyatt is mesmerized, Amanda Hahn reignites her passion, and Ryan Callahan plows ahead.  P1-AT967_RADIO_F_20100224175520Terry Catlett and myself have been hard at work for a while trying to figure out what sort of written show we wanted to bring to the DCH stage. This week, we’ll finally be putting up the fruit of that labor with the show David and Terry: Portrait of a Crime. It’s a radio play, complete with live sound effects provided by Colten Winburn and Daniel Matthews. In honor of that upcoming show, I wanted to share a couple of clips that inspired the production.

The first idea for the show came about when I randomly heard WC Fields’ “The Day I Drank a Glass of Water” and played it for Terry. It’s super dumb and terrible, but you can check out the ten minute piece here. Favorite part would be the long, drawn out description when he finally goes to take a drink. The sheer absurdity of how they over explain it really spoke to us. After listening to this, and similar radio plays, we realized the sort of show that we wanted to do.

Our primary inspiration for the style of humor would be everything The Smothers Brothers did. If you’re not familiar with them, The Smothers Brothers were a comic singing duo that hosted a variety show in the 1960s. They created these happy, upbeat, clean, folk songs that still hold up today (Especially if you liked my piece on A Mighty Wind.). I love the dynamic between the straight and absurd players, something that is especially evident in “Boil That Cabbage Down.” Check it out here.

So if either of those billion year old clips, or my normal shows with Terry, are to your liking, we’d love to have you join us on 8/31 at 8:30 as we debut the radio play! - David Allison

Middle SchoolIt’s been a big week for students, parents, and teachers around these parts, as school started back this past Monday. Because of this, the thing I’m loving this week is hanging out with middle school kids. No, it’s not a creepy thing--I’m a “highly qualified” teacher by Texas standards, so it’s not only something I enjoy, but it’s something I get paid to do.

The first week is filled with lots of emotion. Crying, complaining, wondering if you’ll make any friends--and it’s pretty rough on the students, too. I teach both 6th grade and 8th grade, so I get to see both sides of the spectrum, all the way from the eleven-year-old on the verge of tears because she can’t get her locker open to the smooth 8th grader who has gotten as good at this middle school game as he did at [insert title of popular video game all the kids are playing these days]  over the summer. I’m only three days in, and I’ve already had had one sixth grader ask me if she could read Milton’s Paradise Lost, another tell me that when he grows up he wants to be “a problem, so people throw money at me,” and a group of 8th graders who have declared an “anti-spork” movement in our classroom, proclaiming the superiority of the spoon and hoping to get #antispork2014 trending.

If you get ever get the chance to hang out, work with, or mentor some middle school students, go for it. It will open up the door for some memorable conversations, you’ll get to make a (hopefully) positive impact, and you’ll also be reminded that even on your worst day, you can be thankful for the fact that you never have to be that awkward thirteen-year-old version of yourself again. - Jonda Robinson

nicki-anaconda-previewOh. If I could sum up Nicki Minaj’s music video for her latest single, “Anaconda”, in one word, it would be “Oh”. It’s a non-stop barrage of ass, sex, glistening skin, and Sir Mix-a-lot doing more work than Miss Minaj. And I kind of love it.

I thought I’d check it out while I was writing, foolishly thinking that it would just be background chatter. I was mesmerized from the first image. Oh. “What is this?? No! Why can’t I turn away??” It’s so much writhing, so much skin, so much Nicki. I mean, there’s no way everyone on set didn’t see her sorganz (my new slang for sex organs, try it out) well enough for a police sketch artist to use in court.

There’s such a build up in this video to her actually dancing but she never really does. Her back up dancers kill some moves while she pats their asses and twerks a little on a chair. Oh. There’s a section of the video that consists of cuts between her suggestively eating a banana and spraying herself with whipped cream and lots and lots of butt.

I’m not feeling it. But I could hear the sound of thousands of young boys closing their bedroom doors while I was watching it. And if that wasn’t enough, the bridge (???) is a scene of Nicki giving Drake a lap dance so good it seems to be a religious experience. I think we sometimes forget that he started as an actor because that lap dance looked weak as hell to me. This whole thing probably sounds like I hated the video. I did. I love that I hate it. I hate that I love it. I love it. Oh. - Sarah Wyatt

pomerantzThe new school year started up again this week. That doesn’t make much of a difference for grad students since our schooling is year round, but this marks the beginning of my third year in grad school, with about two or three more to go. This summer, for the first time since I started doing research almost 5 years ago, I started getting bored with what I do. I cared a little less about my ongoing studies and results. I spent less time playing with my data (usually a favorite hobby of mine). I stopped reading the RSS feeds of science journals I follow. I just wanted to lay in the sunshine all day and do comedy all night. I needed a kick in the pants. You guys. I got it. I got my kick in the form of this video by Dr. James Pomerantz.

Even if you’re not interested in neuroscience, I highly recommend watching it. Dr. Pomerantz was the PI of the lab I volunteered in after college, and he always demonstrated an amazing ability to explain such a vast array of different topics so simply, clearly, and interestingly. In this 8 minute long video taken at colloquia at Rice University, he does just that. He describes how we perceive, and essentially recreate, the world around us. As Dr. Pomerantz puts it, “when our neurons and the external world disagree with one another, the neurons win every time as for as our experience is concerned. We are all prisoners of our neural architecture.”

That applies to everything we experience. If you have vertigo and your neurons are firing in a way that says the world is spinning, then to you, the world is spinning. If you’re depressed, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you cheer up and that they love you. You’re going to be depressed until your body corrects itself or you seek help. Knowing why our brains don’t always mirror reality can help inform solutions. It can change lives. In the meantime, it’s just really, really cool to learn about. To all of you who are going back to school too: let’s learn the crap out of this weird little world we live in, shall we? Bring it on, year three. - Amanda Hahn

urlOver the past few weeks I have been working my way through the novels, stories, and other writings of Raymond Chandler. Okay, I haven’t read any of the stories yet, or the other writings, but I have finished the first two novels, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely.

Both of these novels, in fact all of Chandler’s novels, star world-weary, hard-boiled, heavy-drinking, quip-ready private detective Phillip Marlowe. Chandler writes in the first person, allowing the reader to see the people and places of pre-war Los Angeles through Marlowe’s point of view, alternately sardonic and empathetic.

It is this point of view that makes the books great. The plots are nothing special; they’re often needlessly complicated. The mysteries are either incredibly obvious or impossible to sort out. It is the words, the tone, those descriptions – "She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her.” “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” – which will keep you turning the pages.

I enjoyed Farewell, My Lovely more than The Big Sleep, likely due with my familiarity with the plot of the latter thanks to the Humphrey Bogart film version. Farewell, My Lovely also benefits from a virtuoso chapter in which Marlowe wakes up in a locked room, having been drugged, and struggles to regain his senses. It’s a terrifying flirtation with madness, made all the more effective by how grounded the character is the rest of the time.

My adventure through the Chandler bibliography shall continue. There are only dozens of stories and four more novels to go. After that, I can rest easy. Until I move on to the complete works of Ross MacDonald. - Ryan Callahan

#Ashtag Week 5: Science and Simplicity

By Ashley Bright Welcome back to another week of #Ashtag, where I educate myself of all things trending online. This week, the Internet has been filled with some serious matters and actual news events. Let's not worry about such things here.

Not when there's a video titled "Tortoise vs Truck" topping the YouTube searches. This video contains 34 seconds of a small tortoise chasing a remote controlled truck. The little tortoise appears to be giving it its all in the chase; it really wants that truck. Sometimes life is just that simple. The tortoise just wants to catch the truck.

Another top video this week is titled "Jellyfish Stinging In MICROSCOPIC SLOW MOTION - Smarter Every Day 120." I'm leaving the capitalized words in the title because I am a purist. This video is not as simple as the tortoise vid because it contains words like, "nematocyst." I've never been stung by a jellyfish, but this video did interest me. Maybe the replica of a jellyfish made from a balloon did it for me. Or maybe it's because I feel relatively certain that I have the luck to get stung by a jellyfish, and that's it's just my lack of time in the sea that has kept it from happening so far. The video ends with a call-to-action from James Cook University looking for undergrad and grad students interested in helping to solve the mystery of the box jelly's cardiotoxin venom. Maybe some of the many scientists at DCH will heed that call? Actually, no, please don't move to Australia. I love you guys.

The number one video on YouTube this week is titled, "It's a Shoo-In for Bright Dike." I don't like this title. Mostly because my last name is Bright. But also because the title is wasted opportunity for a pun. The video contains a soccer player kicking his shoe off and into the goal instead of kicking the ball into the goal. Shoe-in, folks, not shoo-in. Also, sports. (This is where I blow a raspberry sound for my own amusement.)

The #ALSIcebucketchallenge has also ruled the Internet this week. I was aware of this because of Facebook. The challenge consists of celebrities dumping water on their head and challenging other celebs and rich folks to do the same in an effort to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And now you and I both know what ALS stands for. If you knew before this, well good for you. Again, please don't move to Australia.

Compared to all those "prison challenges" she once faced, this Ice Bucket Challenge is probably a breeze for Lady Martha.

Another top hashtag this week is #vote5sos. This is related to the MTV's Hottest that I wrote about last week. Last week, One Direction was topping the list. I knew that One Direction was a musical group. I had even discovered last week that I have heard some of One Direction's music. Until I saw #vote5sos and Googled its definition, I had never heard of 5sos. It's short for the boy band, 5 Seconds of Summer. Again, never heard of them. Based on the photos on their website, they are four teen boys with fairly emo haircuts who are big fans of doing the duck face. According to Wikipedia, they are Australian teens who gained popularity by covering songs and posting the videos to YouTube. They hit it big when One Direction invited them to join their tour. One Direction. Australia. Everything is related. Time is a flat circle.

Speaking of flat circles, I have yet to gain more than 10 K-stars in the Kardashian game. But I did make it to the B-list and I am quickly approaching the A-list. Color yourselves impressed, folks.

Ashley Bright is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and a level 2 sketch writing student. She's also an intern for the DCH blog. You can see Ashley and the rest of her sketch writing class perform their sketch show this Thursday at 8PM at DCH.