Stanford University humor researcher Allan Reiss has a reassuring insight for all the men whose girlfriends and wives roll their eyes at Adam Sandler movies: Women really do enjoy a good laugh as much as you do; they are just wired to focus on different aspects of humor.
To understand how the brain reacts to humor, Reiss and his team had test subjects rate the hilarity of cartoons while undergoing fMRI brain scans. Although men and women described the cartoons as equally funny, the areas of their brains that lit up as a result differed. Women activated the left prefrontal cortex more than men, indicating that their processing of humor is rooted more heavily in language. This explains why women are more likely to appreciate wordplay over, say, the slapstick antics of a dim-witted water boy. Reiss also found that women showed a stronger response in the nucleus accumbens, the brain's reward center, suggesting that they ultimately derived bigger pleasure hits from punch lines.
Female mirth may also have a dark side. Women may have a more sensitive response to both positive and negative emotional stimuli, suggests Reiss, and that could help explain why they are twice as likely as men to become depressed.