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By On June 3rd, 2008

Awareness of Social Inference

Katherine Rankin, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and assistant professor in the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, has developed an innovative test known as the Awareness of Social Inference Test. The test, developed in 2002, uses videotaped vignettes of exchanges in which seemingly straightforward words are delivered in a overt sarcastic style. Dr. Rankin’s test relies on the person’s ability to detect paralinguistic cues. MRI scans revealed that those individuals who had a problem detecting sarcasm had dysfunction in the right parahippocampal gyrus. This finding highlighted that the right parahippocampal gyrus must detect more than just visual context, but also the social context. The right hemisphere language function is where the appreciation of humor and jokes resides. Dr. Rankin was asked how individuals with intact brains differ in their ability to pick up sarcasm. The case in point was Jon Stewart, who uses sarcasm effectively on The Daily Show. Dr. Rankin commented that Mr. Stewart “is probably just normal; the right parahippocampal gyrus is involved in detecting sarcasm, not in being sarcastic.” But then she added, “I bet Jon Stewart has a huge right frontal lobe; that’s where the sense of humor is detected on MRI.”

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