Although researchers have long known that a good sense of humor has many healthy benefits, relatively little is known about how humor is handled by the brain. Thanks to new imaging techniques (MRI), researchers are now learning more about how the brain processes humor and may one day be able to help people who have lost their sense of humor due to depression or other psychological disorders.
A study in 2003 showed that humor may give people a natural high by activating the same reward centers in the brain that have previously been linked with happiness and drug-induced euphoria [Mobbs, D. Neuron, Dec. 4, 2003; vol 40: pp.1041-8.]. The study showed that, in addition to activating areas of the brain involved in language processing, humor also stimulated regions of the brain known as reward centers, such as the amygdala, which releases dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful chemical that plays a vital role in the brain's pleasure and reward system.
Loss of one's appreciation of the rewarding aspects of humor is a frequent and fairly specific symptom of depression.
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