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Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Why certain right-wing bloggers need right lobe augmentation

This story from the Chicago Tribune explains much of the gibberish that appears on some political blogs.

It's a right lobe thing. No, really
Study: Ability to get sarcasm is biological

By Jamie Talan
Tribune Newspapers: NewsdayPublished May 25, 2005

Scientists have discovered comedy central in the brain--specific tissue regulating the ability to understand sarcasm.

People with damage to the right frontal lobe, right behind the eyes, are unable to appreciate this kind of humor. In sarcasm, "the literal meaning is different from the true meaning, and some people just don't understand that difference," said Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a psychologist at the Rambam Medical Center and the University of Haifa in Israel. Her study appears in the May issue of the journal Neuropsychology.

The study tested 25 people with damage to the frontal lobe, 16 with damage in the region to the back of the brain and 17 normal volunteers. Rigged to scanning devices, the subjects were presented with a series of sarcastic comments.

For instance: Joe came to work and fell asleep. His boss walks by. "Don't work too hard, Joe," he says. Both normal volunteers and people with damage to the back of the brain understood that the boss was being sarcastic. But Shamay-Tsoory said people with damage to the right frontal lobe didn't get the irony of the comment. In fact, they failed to understand that the boss was not happy with his lethargic employee.

Shamay-Tsoory thinks that apart from brain injury, perhaps even subtle differences in the "wiring" of this region can leave people unable to empathize with others, and it is this lack of ascertaining another's emotional state that may be responsible for the inability to understand sarcasm.

The network that regulates one's ability to appreciate sarcasm begins with an understanding of the meaning of the sentence, which is carried out by the left frontal lobe. Then, the right frontal lobe helps the person put it into a social context. Finally, the right frontal lobe must be able to tell the difference between the literal meaning and what is really meant."This region makes the ultimate decision on whether something is sarcastic or not," the scientist said. "People won't get what is going on in a social situation without this network doing its job."

Dr. Antonio Damasio, head of the neurology department at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, said this finding makes perfect sense. "People with damage on the right side of their brain ... have major problems with social cognition, or thinking," said Damasio, author of "The Feeling of What Happens," a book about emotion and the brain. Shamay-Tsoory said the ability to understand sarcasm doesn't normally manifest itself until the sixth year of life. That's when the Jon Stewart in most people begins to emerge.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

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