The Brain and Sarcasm

I'm not making fun of you, I'm trying to exercise your brain:

Given the mental difficulties involved in deciphering sarcasm, it's
interesting to note that the right hemisphere has been repeatedly
implicated as an essential component of sarcastic processing. For
instance, a 2005 study
of patients with lesions to the ventromedial area of the right
prefrontal cortex found that they exhibited severe deficits in
understanding sarcastic speech, at least when compared to people with
left PFC lesions. And then there's this 2008 study,
which showed that people hear sarcasm better when it's presented to
their left ear. (The auditory system, like the visual system, is a case
of crossed wires, so that the left ear projects first to your right
hemisphere and vice versa.)

What makes this data on sarcasm so surprising is that, until
recently, the right hemisphere was thought to play little role in the
processing of language. The neuroscientist Roger Sperry, in his 1981
Nobel lecture, summarized the prevailing view of the right hemisphere
when he began studying it: "The right hemisphere was not only mute and
agraphic, but also dyslexic, word deaf and apraxic, and lacking
generally in higher cognitive function."

But that, of course, is wrong; the right hemisphere is not a mostly
useless chunk of tissue. One of my favorite metaphors for our
hemispheres comes from Jonathan Schooler,
at UCSB. He argues that our hemispheres follow the same information
processing strategy as the visual system. "One of the most fundamental
features of how the brain sees is that it actually has two different
ways of making sense of the world," he told me recently. "We've got one
visual system that's interested in fine-grained details and clarity.
That's the system associated with the fovea and cones in the retina,
which we use to perceive things like words on the page. But we've also
got a more coarse-grained system too, which allows us to quickly grasp
an entire scene, or to see some movement out of the corner of our eye."
According to this metaphor, the left hemisphere excels at the
fine-grained and literal, while the right hemisphere is better at
coarse-grained analysis, allowing us to make sense of things within
their context.

via The Frontal Cortex