A short article in the Guardian asks Are women as funny as men? (Purposefully funny, that is….)
Well, judging by Robert Provine’s (Laughter: A Scientific Investigation) research, women certainly seem to laugh more at men’s jokes than vice versa — in 1200 cases, “females laughed 126% more than their male counterparts, meaning that women tend to do the most laughing while males tend to do the most laugh-getting.”
Men seem to be the main instigators of humor across cultures, which begins in early childhood. Think back to your high school class clown — most likely he was a male….
Given the differences in male and female laugh patterns, is laughter a factor in meeting, matching and mating? I sought an answer in the human marketplace of newspaper personal ads. In 3,745 ads placed on April 28, 1996 in eight papers from the Baltimore Sun to the San Diego Union-Tribune, females were 62% more likely to mention laughter in their ads, and women were more likely to seek out a “sense of humor” while men were more likely to offer it. Clearly, women seek men who make them laugh, and men are eager to comply with this request.
Sounds like sexual selection for an indicator of intelligence to me. I mean, you have to be smart to tell clever jokes, right? (Of course, you have to be smart enough to get the jokes, too….)
The good folks at the LaughLab took a look at “joke complexity” and the brain:
We also asked people who took part in LaughLab to answer questions that involve making various estimates, such as: How many words are there on one page of a typical paperback novel?
A) Under 500
B) 500 – 600
C) 600 – 700
D) 700 – 800
E) Over 800
Research suggests that people who are good at this type of question (the correct answer is under 500) tend to have good frontal lobe activation, whilst people who make incorrect estimates do not. Interestingly, people who tended to answer this question correctly tended to prefer relatively complex jokes, such as…
A scientist and a philosopher were being chased by a hungry lion. The scientist made some quick calculations, he said “its no good trying to outrun it, its catching up”. The philosopher kept a little ahead and replied ” I am not trying to outrun the lion, I am trying to out run you”!
Whereas people who answered incorrectly, tended to like more straightforward jokes, such as…
Which day of the week do fish hate?…….
In other words, the more intelligent you are — or, at least, the more active your frontal lobe — the more complex jokes you’re likely (and able) to enjoy. And, it seems that women are looking for men who are funny (not surprising as this probably indicates intelligence) — and men are looking for women who think they (the men) are funny:
When Karl Grammar and Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt studied spontaneous conversations between mixed-sex pairs of young German adults meeting for the first time, they noted that the more a woman laughed aloud during these encounters, the greater her self-reported interest in the man she was talking to. In the same vein, men were more interested in women who laughed heartily in their presence. The personal ads and the German study complement an observation from my field studies: The laughter of the female, not the male, is the critical index of a healthy relationship.
By the way, the LaughLab folks also found differences between nations in the types of jokes that they found funny:
People from The Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand expressed a strong preference for jokes involving word plays, such as:
Patient: â€œDoctor, I’ve got a strawberry stuck up my bum.â€
Doctor: â€œI’ve got some cream for that.
Americans and Canadians much preferred gags where there was a sense of superiority â€“ either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person, such as:
Texan: â€œWhere are you from?â€
Harvard grad: â€œI come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.â€
Texan: â€œOkay â€“ where are you from, jackass?â€
Finally, many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, liked jokes that were somewhat surreal, such as:
An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote: â€œWoof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.â€
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: â€œThere are only nine words here. You could send another â€˜Woofâ€™ for the same price.â€
â€œBut,â€ the dog replied, â€œthat would make no sense at all.â€
These European countries also enjoyed jokes that involved making light of topics that often make us feel anxious, such as death, illness, and marriage. For example:
A patient says: â€œDoctor, last night I made a Freudian slip, I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: â€œCould you please pass the butter.â€ But instead I said: â€œYou silly cow, you have completely ruined my lifeâ€.
Interestingly, Germany was the exception. Germans did not express a strong preference for any type of joke – this may well explain why they came first in our league table of funniness â€“ they do not have any strong preferences and so tend to find a wide spectrum of jokes funny.
Dr Richard Wiseman commented “These results are really interesting â€“ it suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour.“
Here are the top jokes in different countries according to the Laugh Lab.
And, for the record, my favorite (repeatable) joke:
A philosopher, a physicist and a mathematician were travelling through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.
“Aha,” says the philosopher, “I see that Scottish sheep are black.”
“Hmm,” says the physicist, “You mean that some Scottish sheep are black.”
“No,” says the mathematician, “All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black.”