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Say 'Aaah' | Booster Shots

Tracing the Source of a Sense of Humor

April 05, 1999|JANE E. ALLEN

The ability to laugh at a good joke has a lot to do with your brain's frontal lobe. If you have damage there, punch lines may whiz right by you. But the slapstick humor of the Three Stooges could leave you in stitches, according to new research.

In a study of 42 people, half of whom had a brain injury caused by a stroke, tumor or surgery, those with damage to the right frontal lobe had more trouble appreciating written or spoken jokes than people with no brain injury or those with injuries elsewhere in the brain.

Those with right frontal damage chose the wrong punch lines to written jokes. Funny cartoons or spoken jokes also didn't get a rise out of them. But those same people liked slapstick humor.

The study by University of Toronto psychology graduate student Prathiba Shammi appears in the April issue of the international journal Brain. It suggests that the frontal lobe of the brain may play a major role in appreciating humor.

Here's a joke similar to one used in the study:

A teenager is being interviewed for a summer job. The boss says, "You'll get $50 a week to start off. Then after a month you'll get a raise to $75 a week."

Here are the three possible answers:

A. The choice of straightforward thinkers: "I'd like to get that job. When can I start?"

B. The correct funny choice: "That's great. I'll come back in a month."

C. The slapstick, illogical choice of those with right frontal damage: "Hey boss, your nose is too big for your face!"

Clothing That Protects Against Pesticides

A California graduate student noticed that farm workers and weekend gardeners tend to wear street clothing and don't want to bother with steamy protective gear that would shield them from pesticides in fields and flower beds. So she devised a method to protect their skin from pesticide exposure by building a chemical shield into clothing.

Working with a faculty advisor, Louise L. Ko of UC Davis grafted a chemical compound called hydantoin to the surface of common fabrics. It forces some pesticides to degrade into nontoxic chemicals. Throwing the soiled clothing into a washerful of bleach after wearing rinses away the nontoxic pesticide residues and reactivates the pesticide-degrading chemicals.

In lab tests, the fabrics broke down carbamate pesticides by 99%. The researchers haven't yet tested the fabric against organophosphate pesticides like malathion, commonly used on alfalfa and strawberries.

A Way to Scrub Teeth in an Emergency

Feel an urge for a fresher mouth but you don't have a toothbrush, water, toothpaste or floss?

A Dutch dentist developed Chew 'n' Brush, a tiny disposable bristle brush for scrubbing away plaque and stimulating your gums. The device has a sort of hinge-like stem that fits over the edge of your teeth. To work properly, the little brush must by correctly positioned in your mouth and chewed for 10 to 20 minutes.

The brush is saturated with peppermint oil and the sugar-free sweeteners sorbitol and bacteria-inhibiting Xylitol. The package carries an odd but obvious warning: "Do not swallow the brush."

The brush's maker, Advanced Orange Hygiene International Inc. in Orange, which purchased rights to the brush from its inventor, says it's been available in Europe for more than three years and has been tested by the Royal Dutch Navy, Norwegian marines and a few California dentists. It's sold in some health food stores.

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