Researchers from Aberystwyth University and the University of North Carolina have produced a study that will undoubtedly leave many unamused – for it concludes men are overwhelmingly funnier than women, on average.
Writing in Psychology Today, lead researcher Dr Gil Greengross said they’d set out to investigate whether the stereotype that men are funnier than women was true.
"This stereotype is shared by both men and women - but of course, just because it exists doesn’t mean it is true… We systematically reviewed all available studies that looked at sex differences in humour ability, and using the statistical tool called meta-analysis, we calculated the difference…Humour is a complex phenomenon that involves social, emotional, physiological, cognitive, cultural and evolutionary influences, to name a few. One important aspect is the ability to make others laugh. Humour production ability is a distinct cognitive ability that is largely uncorrelated with appreciation and enjoyment of humour. When looking at who is the funnier sex, we focus then on humour production ability,” she wrote.To do so, they conducted a systematic review known as meta-analysis, a method in which researchers collect all available data on a given topic that meets certain criteria defined by the researchers. In their case, they only included studies objectively evaluating humour ability, and excluded studies where people evaluated their own humour ability, as “most people believe” they’re possessed of an above-average sense of humour. Also not included were studies where the sex of the person was known to the evaluator – “for example, the sex of a teacher may have an effect on how funny he or she is perceived”.
In several of the studies assessed, men and women were asked to write a funny caption to accompany a cartoon - and then independent judges rated their funniness without knowing their gender. Dr Gil said the results found "to the best of our knowledge, on average, men appear to have higher humour production ability than women".
“Note I emphasised the word average because the study does not mean, as Christopher Hitchens famously proclaimed, women aren’t funny. The fact that men, on average, appear to be funnier than women, does not imply that every single man is funnier than every single woman. There are many great female comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Ali Wong and historically, Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, and many, many more. All these great comedians are funnier than 99.9 percent of all men,” the academic hastened to add.In explaining why men have may have a higher humour ability than women on average, the researchers suggest it’s possible the view women are less funny is so pervasive, societal forces “discourage girls and women from developing and expressing their humour, making a woman less likely to be perceived as funny”. They conversely stated there was “minimal evidence” to support the view society suppresses women from producing and exhibiting humour.
Nonetheless, the evidence suggests humour plays a major role in mating, with a strong evolutionary basis – just as Hitchens stated back in 2008.
“Women, who undertake the heavier costs of reproduction (pregnancy, breastfeeding) are choosier than men when selecting a mate. Women tend to look for various signal indicators of mate quality, and a great sense of humour is one of them. Humour is strongly correlated with intelligence, which explains why women value men with a great sense of humour, as intelligence was crucial for survival throughout our evolutionary history when we mostly lived in hunter-gatherer groups,” Dr. Gil explained.