Sometimes, brain damage can lead to joke addiction

yasin malik

Life, Art

It’s generally a good thing to have a sense of humor. But for some people, joking can become a compulsion.

Called Witzelsucht (German for ‘joke addiction’), excessive joking is a neuro disease, new study finds.

It’s generally a good thing to have a sense of humor. But for some people, joking can become a compulsion.

In two case studies by UCLA brain researchers published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, the subjects’ brain trauma and dementia led to what the scientists describe as “intractable joking.”

Called Witzelsucht (German for “joke addiction”), excessive joking is a real neurological disease. Coming up with puns is pathological.

For five years, one man, an anonymous 69-year-old, would wake his wife up in the middle of the night to tell her jokes he’d come up with. When she complained, he wrote them down instead — accumulating 50 pages of puns and poop jokes he later told the researchers.

Ten years before he visited the lab, this man suffered a brain hemorrhage that changed his behavior. He became compulsive, particularly about recycling. He would dig through dumpsters to try to find recyclables, and hoard napkins from restaurants. Five years after the episode, his compulsion turned toward comedy.

In the second case studied, a 57-year-old with dementia got fired from his job for his inability to quash his jokester persona. He was let go after he blurted “Who the hell chose this God-awful place ” at work. Like the aforementioned pun-lover, though, he didn’t find other people’s jesting amusing. His sense of humor was entirely personal. When he died, the man’s autopsy showed that he had Pick’s disease, a form of dementia that resulted in severe atrophy of the brain’s frontal lobes.

These men did not die of laughter, and it sounds like friends and family were excessively patient. Still, joke addiction is serious business. Figuring out the brain issues that lead to this compulsive jesting and merriment can help us understand how the brain processes humor — a particularly human behavior psychologists and other researchers still don’t entirely understand.