IELTS® Academic Reading Practice 46

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The Science of Laughing

A Why do we begin laughing when we are tickled? Tickling comes from the feeling of light sensations on the skin. Sometimes this light sensation feels like itching, but usually it causes giggling. When dragging a feather gently across the surface of our skin, it can also cause a tickling sensation, and more laughing. Heavy laughter can happen when someone or something repeatedly puts pressure on a particular area by tickling. The most ticklish spots may be the feet, toes, sides, underarms, or neck, and tickling any of these can cause a great deal of laughter. Yngve Zotterman from Karolinksk Institute has discovered that tickling sensations come from signals within nerve fibers. These nerve fibers are related to our senses of pain and touch. In addition, Zotterman has found tickling sensations are not only connected with nerve fibers, but also with our sense of touch. This is from information which shows people who have lost pain sensations still laugh when tickled. Another question remains, though. Why are we not able to tickle ourselves? What part of the brain is involved in laughter and humor? Why is it sometimes said that a person has no sense of humor?

B Research indicates that laughter goes beyond a person’s voice and physical reactions. It seems that this act requires the coordination of several muscles. Laughter increases blood pressure and heart rate as well as changes in breathing, reduced levels of certain neurochemicals (catecholamines, hormones) and boostes to our immune system. Could laughter have health benefits? Muscle tension tends to go down after laughing, so perhaps it’s a good way for some to relax. Experiments on humans have revealed some evidence suggesting watching humorous videos and tapes can reduce feelings of pain, stop negative stress reactions and improve our defenses against infection.

C Researchers believe that processing humor and laughter requires a complicated network of brain activity involving three main brain components. In a recent study, imaging equipment was used to record healthy volunteers’ brain activity as they were presented with written jokes, comics from “The New Yorker,” and “The Far Side” and recordings of the sounds of people laughing. The first results suggest that the pathway of the brain processing humor appears in parts of the frontal lobe brain area, important for cognitive processing, the supplementary motor area, used for movement, and the nucleus accumbens, connected to pleasure. Research investigations support the notion that parts of the frontal lobe are involved in humor. Images were taken from subjects’ brains as they listened to jokes. Part of the frontal lobe only became active when subjects found a joke humorous. Another study compared healthy individuals with those whose frontal lobes were damaged. Results showed that people with damaged frontal lobes tended to choose incorrect punch lines to written jokes and didn’t laugh or smile as often with funny stimulus.

D Despite current knowledge on what parts of the brain are involved with humor, there still isn’t much of an explanation for why we don’t laugh when we tickle ourselves. Darwin theorized within “The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals” that the connection existing between tickling and laughing was due to an anticipation of pleasure. Since we cannot tickle ourselves, Darwin believed that the surprise of another person touching a sensitive spot must have caused laughter. Some scientists believe that tickling resulting in laughter is a reflex even for babies. When we try to tickle ourselves in the same place that someone else did, we do not laugh like we did before. Information traveling through our spinal cord and brain should be the same. It seems that the brain needs tenseness and surprise to produce a response of laughter. There is no tension or surprise when you try to tickle yourself. The way that the brain reacts to tension and surprise remains mysterious, although some evidence points to involvement of the cerebellum. Research suggests that during self-tickling, the cerebellum communicates with another area, the somatosensory cortex, and therefore lessening the tickling sensation. It seems that the cerebellum is responsible for “warning” the body that the tickler is actually him or herself. More research on tickling and laughter by Christenfeld and Harris includes “The Mystery of Ticklish Laughter” and “Can a Machine Tickle?.” In their work, they explain how people laughed the same amount regardless whether they were being tickled by a machine or by a person. The participants, however, did not know which one was tickling them. This supports Darwin’s reasoning that the tickling response is a reflex, and the laughter response requires some level of surprise.

E Damage to specific areas in the brain can influence the way we process humor. Peter Derks, a professor of psychology, teamed up with a group of scientists at NASA-Langley in Hampton. In their experiment, they used an advanced electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain activity for 10 participants when presented with humorous stimuli. Whether or not we laugh depends on the speed at which our brains realize some inconsistency involved in most humor, then attaches an abstract meaning to it. But humor can also be subjective, as some people find jokes funny that others do not. A number of factors seem to be at play with humor, such as personality differences, and intelligence levels, as well as current mood or status. Derks, however, claims that most people pick up on situations which are supposed to be funny. After some research experiments, Derks realized that several patients recovering from injuries to the brain were not able to tell the difference between what was funny and what wasn’t.

F Dr. Shibata of the University of Rochester School of Medicine states that our neurons can also be “tickled” after listening to a joke. The “funny bone” of our brains seems to be located in our right frontal lobes, right over the right eye. When this area is affected, our ability to recognize a joke is also impacted. Dr. Shibata performed MRI scans on his patients, measuring their brain activity in an attempt to find out which areas of the brain are active when the punchline of a joke is delivered in compared to other parts of the joke that are not funny. The punchlines “tickled” the frontal lobes. Activity in the nucleus accumbens also showed up on scans, and possibly connect to feelings of happiness after hearing a good joke as well as a tendency to seek out humorous stimulus. Though this research focused on humor, these results may provide us with other insights, and even help those suffering depression. Areas in the brain activated by humor seem to be outside of the norm for patients with depression. In the future, brain scans could be used to examine patients affected by depression or mood disorders. It could also be used to shed light on the reason that the loss of a sense of humor or other personality changes occur with stroke victims.




This reading practice simulates one part of the IELTS Academic Reading test. You should spend about twenty minutes on it. Read the passage and answer questions 1-13.
Questions 1-5
Look at the following Researchers (Questions 1-5) and List of findings below.

Match each researcher with the correct finding(s)

Write the correct number A-D in boxes Questions 1-5 on your answer sheet.

NB You may use any letter more than once.
List of findings
  1. Darwin
  2. Christenfeld and Harris
  3. Peter Derks
  4. Yngve Zotterman

1. Surprise combined with anticipation are both factors which cause laughter when being tickled.

2. Damage to specific areas in the brain can impact how we react to humor.

3. People also laugh when tickled by a machine.

4. Even without the ability to feel sensations of pain, people may still laugh when tickled.

5. The way we respond to being tickled by laughing is actually a reflex.

Questions 6-13
The reading passage has ten paragraphs labelled A-J.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter A-J in boxes 6-13 on your answer sheet.

NB You may use any letter more than once.

6. Differences in personality or mood may account for why humor is not the same for everyone.

7. Location of a brain section responsible for the recognition of joke.

8. Tickling yourself is difficult because it lacks the elements of tension and surprise.

9. Laughter lowers muscle tension and stress levels.

10. Neuropsychological mechanisms by which humor and laughter work

11. Tickling sensations involve more than nerve fibers.

12. Parts of the brain control tickling reflex

13. Parts of the brain are involved with humor




Answer Sheet
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
N/A
15
N/A
16
N/A
17
N/A
18
N/A
19
N/A
20
N/A
21
N/A
22
N/A
23
N/A
24
N/A
25
N/A
26
N/A
27
N/A
28
N/A
29
N/A
30
N/A
31
N/A
32
N/A
33
N/A
34
N/A
35
N/A
36
N/A
37
N/A
38
N/A
39
N/A
40
N/A


Reading Passage Vocabulary
The Science of Laughing


A Why do we begin laughing when we are tickled? Tickling comes from the feeling of light sensations on the skin. Sometimes this light sensation feels like itching, but usually it causes giggling. When dragging a feather gently across the surface of our skin, it can also cause a tickling sensation, and more laughing. Heavy laughter can happen when someone or something repeatedly puts pressure on a particular area by tickling. The most ticklish spots may be the feet, toes, sides, underarms, or neck, and tickling any of these can cause a great deal of laughter. Yngve Zotterman from Karolinksk Institute has discovered that tickling sensations come from signals within nerve fibers. These nerve fibers are related to our senses of pain and touch. In addition, Zotterman has found tickling sensations are not only connected with nerve fibers, but also with our sense of touch. This is from information which shows people who have lost pain sensations still laugh when tickled. Another question remains, though. Why are we not able to tickle ourselves? What part of the brain is involved in laughter and humor? Why is it sometimes said that a person has no sense of humor?

B Research indicates that laughter goes beyond a person’s voice and physical reactions. It seems that this act requires the coordination of several muscles. Laughter increases blood pressure and heart rate as well as changes in breathing, reduced levels of certain neurochemicals (catecholamines, hormones) and boostes to our immune system. Could laughter have health benefits? Muscle tension tends to go down after laughing, so perhaps it’s a good way for some to relax. Experiments on humans have revealed some evidence suggesting watching humorous videos and tapes can reduce feelings of pain, stop negative stress reactions and improve our defenses against infection.

C Researchers believe that processing humor and laughter requires a complicated network of brain activity involving three main brain components. In a recent study, imaging equipment was used to record healthy volunteers’ brain activity as they were presented with written jokes, comics from “The New Yorker,” and “The Far Side” and recordings of the sounds of people laughing. The first results suggest that the pathway of the brain processing humor appears in parts of the frontal lobe brain area, important for cognitive processing, the supplementary motor area, used for movement, and the nucleus accumbens, connected to pleasure. Research investigations support the notion that parts of the frontal lobe are involved in humor. Images were taken from subjects’ brains as they listened to jokes. Part of the frontal lobe only became active when subjects found a joke humorous. Another study compared healthy individuals with those whose frontal lobes were damaged. Results showed that people with damaged frontal lobes tended to choose incorrect punch lines to written jokes and didn’t laugh or smile as often with funny stimulus.

D Despite current knowledge on what parts of the brain are involved with humor, there still isn’t much of an explanation for why we don’t laugh when we tickle ourselves. Darwin theorized within “The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals” that the connection existing between tickling and laughing was due to an anticipation of pleasure. Since we cannot tickle ourselves, Darwin believed that the surprise of another person touching a sensitive spot must have caused laughter. Some scientists believe that tickling resulting in laughter is a reflex even for babies. When we try to tickle ourselves in the same place that someone else did, we do not laugh like we did before. Information traveling through our spinal cord and brain should be the same. It seems that the brain needs tenseness and surprise to produce a response of laughter. There is no tension or surprise when you try to tickle yourself. The way that the brain reacts to tension and surprise remains mysterious, although some evidence points to involvement of the cerebellum. Research suggests that during self-tickling, the cerebellum communicates with another area, the somatosensory cortex, and therefore lessening the tickling sensation. It seems that the cerebellum is responsible for “warning” the body that the tickler is actually him or herself. More research on tickling and laughter by Christenfeld and Harris includes “The Mystery of Ticklish Laughter” and “Can a Machine Tickle?.” In their work, they explain how people laughed the same amount regardless whether they were being tickled by a machine or by a person. The participants, however, did not know which one was tickling them. This supports Darwin’s reasoning that the tickling response is a reflex, and the laughter response requires some level of surprise.

E Damage to specific areas in the brain can influence the way we process humor. Peter Derks, a professor of psychology, teamed up with a group of scientists at NASA-Langley in Hampton. In their experiment, they used an advanced electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain activity for 10 participants when presented with humorous stimuli. Whether or not we laugh depends on the speed at which our brains realize some inconsistency involved in most humor, then attaches an abstract meaning to it. But humor can also be subjective, as some people find jokes funny that others do not. A number of factors seem to be at play with humor, such as personality differences, and intelligence levels, as well as current mood or status. Derks, however, claims that most people pick up on situations which are supposed to be funny. After some research experiments, Derks realized that several patients recovering from injuries to the brain were not able to tell the difference between what was funny and what wasn’t.

F Dr. Shibata of the University of Rochester School of Medicine states that our neurons can also be “tickled” after listening to a joke. The “funny bone” of our brains seems to be located in our right frontal lobes, right over the right eye. When this area is affected, our ability to recognize a joke is also impacted. Dr. Shibata performed MRI scans on his patients, measuring their brain activity in an attempt to find out which areas of the brain are active when the punchline of a joke is delivered in compared to other parts of the joke that are not funny. The punchlines “tickled” the frontal lobes. Activity in the nucleus accumbens also showed up on scans, and possibly connect to feelings of happiness after hearing a good joke as well as a tendency to seek out humorous stimulus. Though this research focused on humor, these results may provide us with other insights, and even help those suffering depression. Areas in the brain activated by humor seem to be outside of the norm for patients with depression. In the future, brain scans could be used to examine patients affected by depression or mood disorders. It could also be used to shed light on the reason that the loss of a sense of humor or other personality changes occur with stroke victims.

 
IELTS Academic Reading Tips for Success
These are general tips that will appear on all reading questions.

Tips to improve your reading speed
To get a high score on the IELTS reading section, you need to have a fast reading speed. To have a fast reading speed, you need to improve your vocabulary and practice dissecting sentences. One strategy to dissect a sentence is to look for the subject and verb of the sentence. Finding the subject and verb will help you better understand the main idea of said sentence. Keep in mind, a common feature of a IELTS reading passage is to join strings of ideas to form long compound sentences. This produces large chunks that students have a hard time absorbing. Do not get overwhelmed by its length, just look for the subject and verb, the rest of the ideas will flow.


Keep in mind, having a slow reading speed makes skimming or scanning a reading passage more difficult. The process of quickly skimming through a reading passage for specific keywords or main ideas is a requirement for you to employ successful reading strategies to improve your IELTS reading score. In other words, skimming and scanning are critical skills to ensure you complete all questions in the allotted time frame.
IELTS Reading Strategies
Once you can read and comprehend a passage with a rate of, at least, 220 words per minute, you'll be ready to start implementing our strategies. All too often, students spend too much time reading the passages and not enough time answering the questions. Here is a step by step guide for tackling the reading section.

  1. Step 1: Read questions first

    One of the most common mistakes that candidates make when approaching the reading exam is reading every single word of the passages. Although you can practice for the exam by reading for pleasure, "reading blindly" (reading without any sense of what the questions will ask) will not do you any favors in the exam. Instead, it will hurt your chances for effectively managing your time and getting the best score.

    The main reason to read the questions first is because the type of question may determine what you read in the passage or how you read it. For example, some question types will call for the "skimming" technique, while others may call for the "scanning" technique.

    It is important to answer a set of questions that are of the same question type. You'll need to determine which question type you want to tackle first. A good strategy would be to start with the easier question type and move on to more difficult question types later. The Easiest question types are the ones where you spend less time reading. For example, the Matching Heading question type is an easier one because you only need to find the heading that best describes the main idea of a paragraph. An example of a difficult question type would be Identifying Information. For this question type, you'll need to read each paragraph to find out if each statement is TRUE, FALSE, or NOT GIVEN according to the passage.

    Here is a table that lists the difficulty levels for each question type. Use this table as a reference when choosing which question type you want to tackle first.


    Difficulty level Question Type
    Easy Sentence Completion
    Short answer
    Medium Matching Features
    Multiple choice
    Matching Headings
    Summary, Table, Flow-Chart Completion
    Difficult Matching Sentence Endings
    Matching Information
    Identifying Information (TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN)
    Identifying Viewer's claims (YES/NO/NOT GIVEN)

  2. Step 2: Read for an objective

    After you've read the questions for the passage, you will be able to read for an objective. What does this mean? For example, if you come across a question that includes the year "1896", you can make a note of when this year comes up in the text, using it to answer the question later on. There are two reading techniques that will help you stay on track with reading for an objective. The first one, skimming, is best defined as reading fast in order to get the "gist", or general idea, or a passage. With this technique, you are not stopping for any unfamiliar words or looking for specific details. The second technique, scanning, is best defined as reading for specific information. With this technique, you are not reading for the overall gist, but rather, specific information. Notice how each of these techniques has a specific objective in mind. This will help you find information more quickly.

  3. Step 3: Take notes

    As you're reading for an objective, you should also be making notes on the margins of the passage, placing stars next to key information, or underlining things that you believe will help you answer the various questions. This will make it easier for you to check back when you are asked certain things in the questions. Choose whichever note-taking system is right for you - just make sure you do it!

  4. Step 4: Answer wisely

    After you've read the questions, read the passage, and have taken any appropriate notes, you you should have located the part of the text where you where you need to read carefully. Then just read carefully and think critically to determine the correct answer.

IELTS Reading Question Types
 
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