We’ve all got that one friend, or friend’s dad, or own dad, who just loves a pun. The kind who pulls out the big puns and chuckles along obliviously while eyes around him roll.
(If your friend is the ‘pull my finger’ type rather than the pun fan, then you probably don’t need to read any further. You need to find new friends).
If you don’t know who I’m talking about, think about the last time you read one of the jokes out of a Christmas bonbon.
Why did the motorcycle crash? Because it was two-tired.
What do you call a sheep dipped in chocolate? A chocolate baa.
Why did the confident steam-train not need any coal? Because it had plenty of self-esteem.
And so on.
We know, we’ve stopped inviting this person to barbecues long ago. I should know, because that person is me (despite the fact I have no children). However, new research shows that puns might be a bit more brilliant than we at first thought – particularly in terms of the effect puns have on the brain.
Research out of the University of Windsor shows that the brain reacts in a specific way to puns; in a manner different from other jokes or comments that your brain might be forced to process.
While we tend to process certain information in either the right or left hand side of the brain, the way that a pun combines humour with language and pre-existing information requires a completely different form of brain activity.
The left side of the brain, as noted by the researchers, is the “linguistic hemisphere”, which generally processes the language parts of the pun.
When the pun is first heard or read, it hits the left side of the brain and is processed and analysed, before the right side of the brain kicks into gear.
The right side then informs us of the unexpected meaning of the word or phrase, upon which an interaction ensues. This interaction, according to the researchers at least, leads to the laughter.
The researchers go into a fair amount of depth about the process of the reaction and why this generates a humorous response. A lot of it is to do with scientific research about what exactly makes jokes funny, which is about the least funny thing going around.
However, this combination of expectation and surprise leads – hopefully, if all goes well – to the laughter.
It also explains why puns are a great deal funnier than anything to do with pulling one’s finger – because the surprise can’t really be a surprise when we all know what it’s going to be.