Missing the Punchline? How Schizophrenia Impacts Humor Comprehension
Schizophrenia causes cognitive problems including impaired attention, processing speed, working memory, language, reasoning, and social cognition. Apart from having a difficult time recognizing emotions in other people and responding appropriately, individuals with schizophrenia also have trouble processing humor. Humor is used to facilitate social bonds and increase morale through social cognition. When someone is not able to understand humor, opportunities to forge social bonds with others and experience increased morale are lost.
One study examined the neural circuitry involved in humor comprehension in individuals who have schizophrenia. Using fMRI, researchers studied 20 people with schizophrenia and 20 controls. During scanning, participants read 60 stories which included humorous, nonsensical, and neutral punchlines. Participants were then asked to rate how comprehensible and funny each story was. Researchers found that individuals with schizophrenia were less likely to comprehend the funny punchlines, and that brain activity in regions responsible for figurative language comprehension differed from individuals who do not show any symptoms of schizophrenia and have healthy controls.
What does this mean? Individuals with schizophrenia may not pick up on the social cues given during the sharing of humor or be able to fully comprehend the plot or story of a humorous film or story. While individuals with schizophrenia may have difficulty comprehending figurative language used for humor, it does not mean that comprehension cannot be improved. One can work on figurative language comprehension by doing worksheets, workbooks, and other activities that teach how to use and comprehend figurative language. Additionally, one may also try activities such as taking an improv or comedy class that can provide them the opportunity to learn from others how to tell jokes and interact with humor and figurative language.
Adamczyk, P., Wyczesany, M., Domagalik, A., Daren, A., Cepuch, K., Błądziński, P., … & Marek, T. (2017). Neural circuit of verbal humor comprehension in schizophrenia-an fMRI study. NeuroImage: Clinical, 15, 525-540.