From "Aha!"to "Haha!"Using Humor to Cope with Negative Stimuli

Xiaofei Wu, Tingting Guo, Chao Zhang, Tzu Yi Hong, Chou Ming Cheng, Ping Wei, Jen-Chuen Hsieh, Jing Luo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Humor has been considered an effective emotion regulation strategy, and some behavioral studies have examined its superior effects on negative emotion regulation. However, its neural mechanisms remain unknown. Our functional magnetic resonance imaging study directly compared the emotion regulation effects and neural bases of humorous coping (reappraisal) and ordinary reappraisal following exposure to negative pictures. The behavioral results suggested that humorous reappraisal was more effective in downregulating negative emotions and upregulating positive emotions both in the short and long term. We also found 2 cooperative neural pathways involved in coping with negative stimuli by means of humor: the "hippocampal-thalamic-frontal pathway"and the "amygdala-cerebellar pathway."The former is associated with the restructuring of mental representations of negative situations and accompanied by an insightful ("Aha!") experience, while the latter is associated with humorous emotional release and accompanied by an expression of laughter ("Haha!"). Furthermore, the degree of hippocampal functional connectivity with both the thalamus and frontal cortex was positively correlated with changes in positive emotion, and this result implied that the degree of emotion regulation could be strongly directly related to the depth of cognitive reconstruction. These findings highlight that regulating negative emotions with humor involves cognitive restructuring and the release of positive emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2238-2250
Number of pages13
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • amygdala
  • cognitive restructuring
  • emotional release
  • hippocampus
  • humor


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