Have you heard the one about the relationship scientist who walks into a bar with a journal under one arm and a duck under the other? Never mind…it wasn’t very funny to begin with. If that’s the only joke you know, will your lackluster sense of humor hurt you when it comes to attracting a romantic partner? It turns out that the use and importance of humor differs between men and women in attracting and selecting mates. So, did The Office get it right by having Jim play the office clown in order to attract Pam?
A recent study1 indicates that men are more likely than women to use humor when getting to know potential romantic partners, and that women use sense of humor as a criteria for evaluating partners more than men. In addition, when analyzing online personal ads, researchers found that men tended to mention their own sense of humor, while women stated a preference for a funny partner. Finally, a woman’s rating of a man’s sense of humor predicts her romantic interest in him. However, a man’s perception of a woman’s sense of humor is unimportant for his desire to get to know her.
From the perspective of sexual selection theory and evolutionary psychology, these findings make sense. Humor may be a signal of fitness, in that it takes time and resources to perfect, but ultimately has limited use as a survival tool. Thus, those able to be funny and still survive must be very “fit”. It’s akin to self-handicapping; as a student, if I can spend time goofing off (rather than studying) and still get a good grade on the test, then I must be super-smart. Similarly, if a male can spend time and resources on humor, rather than focusing solely on survival skills (e.g., push-ups), he must be incredibly fit. In addition, humor may be associated with other traits that women desire, such as intelligence and communication skills. Essentially, you need to be cognitively sophisticated to be funny (pull-my-finger jokes aside).
1Wilbur, C. J., & Campbell, L. (2011). Humor in romantic contexts: Do men participate and women evaluate? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 918-929.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.