Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Milton Berle was said to possess a huge parahippocampal gyrus

Sarcasm. I'm sure you know all about it. Dr. Katherine Rankin, a neuropsychologist and assistant professor in the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, has just completed a scientific study of sarcasm. She used an MRI to locate the seat of sarcasm in the brain, which turned out to be the right parahippocampal gyrus -- a big surprise. For years, neurologists thought it resided in the left side of the brain, which handles language and social interactions. But you knew that.

Don Rickles, master of sarcasm...as if you'd know, hockey puck

Rankin also discovered that people with certain head injuries or frontotemporal dementias were unable to perceive sarcasm through paralinguistic clues. Videotapes that showed people expressing straightforward thoughts were juxtaposed with the same script read sarcastically (for example saying "What nice weather" in the middle of a thunder storm). Alzheimer's patients did fine on the tests, and understood sarcasm as well as anyone, but those with semantic dementia just "didn't get it."

By the way, humor resides in the right frontal lobe. Funny people are extraordinarily well-endowed in this area. If you're not, don't fall for the frontal lobe enhancement ads in the back of magazines; you're stuck with what God gave you, and you're just not funny. Try compensating by driving a big truck with huge tires, and stick a urinating Calvin decal in the window. That should fool people.

For more about the Rankin study, see the article in the New York Times HERE.

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