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'Honey, shall I change the baby? - Well done, choose another one': ERP and time-frequency correlates of humor processing

Paolo Canal, Luca Bischetti, Simona Di Paola, Chiara Bertini, Irene Ricci, Valentina Bambini
Brain and Cognition 2019 March 11, 132: 41-55
30870685
We studied the electrophysiological correlates of verbal humor comprehension by comparing Event Related Potentials (ERPs) and time-frequency representations recorded while 50 participants read humorous and non-humorous passages. Using linear mixed models on single trials we showed that humorous target words elicited a larger Left Anterior Negativity (LAN), sustained in time and followed by a positive shift involving P600 and Late Positive Complex (LPC) components. In the time-frequency domain, humor was associated with a power decrease in the beta-band of the EEG. Furthermore, participants' Autism-spectrum Quotient correlated with the size of the LAN, suggesting that social skills may affect humor comprehension during the early processing phase. Our results describe a sequence of events where incongruity detection (associated with the LAN) precedes a composite set of mechanisms serving resolution and acting in parallel: the sustained LAN might reflect the search for an alternative script, while the P600 might index inferential processes arriving at the resolution and the updating of the discourse model. The processing differences associated with the LPC and the changes in beta power may reflect a later stage of more elaborative and reflective processing (where the receiver reflects upon the joke's solution) and the abandonment of the current discourse model.

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