Neural correlates of hostile jokes: Cognitive and motivational processes in humor appreciation

Yu Chen Chan*, Yi Jun Liao, Cheng Hao Tu, Hsueh Chih Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Hostile jokes (HJs) provide aggressive catharsis and a feeling of superiority. Behavioral research has found that HJs are perceived as funnier than non-hostile jokes (NJs). The purpose of the present study was to identify the neural correlates of the interaction between type and humor by comparing HJs, NJs, and their corresponding hostile sentences (HSs) and non-hostile sentences (NSs). HJs primarily showed activation in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and midbrain compared with the corresponding hostile baseline. Conversely, NJs primarily revealed activation in the ventromedial PFC (vmPFC), amygdala, midbrain, ventral anterior cingulate cortex, and nucleus accumbens (NAcc) compared with the corresponding non-hostile baseline. These results support the critical role of the medial PFC (mPFC) for the neural correlates of social cognition and socio-emotional processing in response to different types of jokes. Moreover, the processing of HJs showed increased activation in the dmPFC, which suggested cognitive operations of social motivation, whereas the processing of NJs displayed increased activation in the vmPFC, which suggested social-affective engagement. HJs versus NJs primarily showed increased activation in the dmPFC and midbrain, whereas NJs versus HJs primarily displayed greater activation in the amygdala and midbrain. The psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis demonstrated functional coupling of the dmPFC–dlPFC and midbrain–dmPFC for HJs and functional coupling of the vmPFC– midbrain and amygdala–midbrain–NAcc for NJs. Surprisingly, HJs were not perceived as funnier than NJs. Future studies could further investigate the neural correlates of potentially important traits of high-hostility tendencies in humor appreciation based on the psychoanalytic and superiority theories of humor.

Original languageEnglish
Article number527
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberOCT2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 28


  • Aggression
  • FMRI
  • Functional connectivity
  • MPFC
  • Motivational humor
  • Social cognition
  • Superiority theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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