Why do we think that men are funnier than women? Because they are! And men are particularly responsive to other men's humor. Women, however, find men funnier because they mistakenly attribute funny things to men. Laura Mickes and her team, from the University of California, and Robert Mankoff from The New Yorker, explore the reasons behind the stereotype that men are funnier than women and find scientific proof to support it.
Their work appears online in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, published by Springer.
Both men and women seem to believe that men are funnier than women. Why? One theory is that men use humor to impress potential partners. Women often say they prefer a man who makes them laugh and men prefer women who laugh at their jokes. Mickes and team wanted to find out if there was some substance behind the stereotype i.e. are men actually funnier than women or are they simply perceived as such?
In the first of two studies, men and women were asked to write funny captions to accompany cartoon images from The New Yorker. The researchers then asked a group of raters to evaluate how funny the captions were, without knowing whether they were written by a man or a woman. Both male and female raters judged captions written by men to be funnier. Males showed an even stronger preference for captions written by males, indicating a uniquely strong appreciation of male humor by male raters.
In the second study, men and women were shown the funniest and least funny captions from the first experiment and were told whether it was written by a man or a woman. On a memory test, they were asked to remember whether a man or a woman had written the funny captions. Overall, funny captions were remembered better, and the funnier the caption the more likely the raters were to remember the gender of their author. Interestingly, there was also a humor-based recall bias: individuals of both genders tended to misattribute humorous captions to male writers and the non-humourous captions to female writers.
The authors conclude: "Our findings suggest that men's view that men are funnier could be a result of their actually finding the humor they produce funnier, as well as their biased recall of funny things as having sprung from men's minds. Women laughing more at men, when the gender is known, may be largely due not to superior humor, but to more social influences, which are known to impact laughter."
- Laura Mickes, Drew E. Walker, Julian L. Parris, Robert Mankoff, Nicholas J. S. Christenfeld. Who’s funny: Gender stereotypes, humor production, and memory bias. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2011; DOI: 10.3758/s13423-011-0161-2
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