02.03.2018 change 02.03.2018

The sense of humour is different in schizophrenia

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

People with schizophrenia process humour differently. It takes them longer to understand jokes, and - compared to healthy people - they more often consider a funny pun less understandable. On the other hand, they find abstract expressions funny.

Although there are reports in the literature about the sense of humour deficit in schizophrenia, little is still known about the neuronal processes that cause dysfunction in the processing of humour in patients.

Pioneering research in this area has been carried out by a team led by Dr. Przemysław Adamczyk from the Institute of Psychology at the Jagiellonian University. It shows a different course and strength of activation of specific parts of the brain involved in the processing of figurative aspects of language.

The research was carried out in cooperation of specialists in many fields from the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University, the Department of Environmental Psychiatry of the Jagiellonian University Medical College and the Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology of the Jagiellonian University. To investigate the neuronal cause of the different processing of jokes in schizophrenia and locate parts of the brain responsible for this process, the researchers decided to conduct research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

According to the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University, the subjects in the study were 25 people with schizophrenia and 20 healthy people. They were presented with 60 stories, of which 20 had a neutral ending, 20 had a funny ending, and 20 had an absurd one. The stories were chosen from among the jokes available on the internet, but devoid of racist, vulgar, religious or political content.

The respondents evaluated how funny and understandable each joke was on special scales. Scientists used fMRI to observe what was happening in their brains when they read the stories presented on screen.

The comparison of both groups - healthy people and patients with schizophrenia- showed a significant difference in the degree and manner of understanding of humorous puns by the two groups. The study suggests that different nervous system pathways are involved in the processing of humour, and the differences in activation of specific parts of the brain are correlated primarily with longer reaction times to jokes in people with schizophrenia, and the fact that they perceive jokes as less understandable.

"The most important neuronal substrates of the humour understanding deficit were associated with smaller activity of the frontal cortex (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), right posterior temporal lobe and the limbic cortex (frontal cingulate cortex) while processing jokes" - reads the release.

The findings of scientists from the Jagiellonian University are among the first reports on the cerebral background of a specific communication disorder in schizophrenia, which is the difficulty in understanding humour.

Further research on humour could contribute to a better understanding of the causes of this deficit and help develop new forms of treatment. "Introducing humorous elements into the therapeutic process or sensitising to metaphorical language appears to be an equivalent element to metacognitive training and psychoeducation. The more so that effective communication is the key to the social world. The world that is sometimes so different and difficult, especially in the experience of psychosis in people with schizophrenia" - says Dr. Przemysław Adamczyk.

The study funded with a National Science Centre grant has been published in NeuroImage: Clinical: (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2017.06.005).

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