Faculté des sciences

Exploration of the neural correlates of ticklish laughter by functional magnetic resonance imaging

Wattendorf, Elise ; Westermann, Birgit ; Fiedler, Klaus ; Kaza, Evangelia ; Lotze, Martin ; Celio, Marco R.

In: Cerebral Cortex, 2012, p. -

The burst of laughter that is evoked by tickling is a primitive form of vocalization. It evolves during an early phase of postnatal life and appears to be independent of higher cortical circuits. Clinicopathological observations have led to suspicions that the hypothalamus is directly involved in the production of laughter. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation, healthy... More

Add to personal list
    Summary
    The burst of laughter that is evoked by tickling is a primitive form of vocalization. It evolves during an early phase of postnatal life and appears to be independent of higher cortical circuits. Clinicopathological observations have led to suspicions that the hypothalamus is directly involved in the production of laughter. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation, healthy participants were 1) tickled on the sole of the right foot with permission to laugh, 2) tickled but asked to stifle laughter, and 3) requested to laugh voluntarily. Tickling that was accompanied by involuntary laughter activated regions in the lateral hypothalamus, parietal operculum, amygdala, and right cerebellum to a consistently greater degree than did the 2 other conditions. Activation of the periaqueductal gray matter was observed during voluntary and involuntary laughter but not when laughter was inhibited. The present findings indicate that hypothalamic activity plays a crucial role in evoking ticklish laughter in healthy individuals. The hypothalamus promotes innate behavioral reactions to stimuli and sends projections to the periaqueductal gray matter, which is itself an important integrative center for the control of vocalization. A comparison of our findings with published data relating to humorous laughter revealed the involvement of a common set of subcortical centers.