A meta-analysis has provided new insights into why men are stereotyped as the funniest of the two sexes.
In 2007, American Christopher Hitchens wrote a paper for Vanity Fair entitled 'Why Women Aren't Funny.' His arguments? It is the role of the man to be funny, in order to seduce the woman. The female population does not need this attribute in order to please a man. Twelve years later, researchers at the Universities of North Carolina (United States) and Aberystwyth (Wales) conducted a scientific study on the subject, through a meta-analysis. The results were published in the Journal of Research in Personality at the end of October.
An ingrained stereotype
'There is a common stereotype that men are funnier than women,' wrote Professor Gil Greengross, the study's lead author, in Psychology Today. This stereotype is shared by [both sexes] - but of course, the fact that it exists does not mean that it is true.' In order to study this phenomenon, the researchers first excluded research where people assessed their own humour, they said, because most participants thought they had an above-average sense of humour - especially men.
They thus focused more on studies in which comedic ability was assessed objectively. For example, volunteers had to add a funny description to an image without a caption. Independent judges then scored their answers on a scale of 1 to 5 and knew nothing about the people who posted their comments. A total of 28 studies were included, representing a total of 5,057 participants from the United States, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany, Israel, etc. 67% of the respondents were women.
Then, they looked into the differences between the two sexes. In total, 63% of males scored higher in the ability to make jokes than the average score of females in the subject. According to scientists, this is considered a 'small to medium' difference. 'The idea that women are less funny is rooted in people's minds,' said Gil Greengross. So much so that they can get discouraged, and prevent themselves from developing their sense of humour - and especially from expressing it! But there is currently no tangible evidence of this, he added.
Impress with humour
On the other hand, previous research has suggested that humour plays a major role in reproduction. Women are more demanding when selecting a partner. They, therefore, tend to identify what are called 'partner quality indicators.' However, a sense of humour is correlated with intelligence. '[This] explains why women value men's humour so highly,' said the Professor, 'because intelligence was essential to survival throughout our evolutionary history when we lived mainly in hunter-gatherer groups.'
Men, on the other hand, prefer women who do not care about their sense of humour. Moreover, they give little importance to the opposite sex's ability to make a joke. Professor Gil Greengross concluded that, throughout our evolution, males have had to compete with each other to impress the female population with their tricks.
However, 'the study does not mean, as Christopher Hitchens proclaimed, that women are not funny,' it is noted. It means that men seem on average, and especially because of social construction, to be more humorous. It should also be remembered that a sense of humour depends on many factors, such as social, emotional, cognitive or cultural influences.