Is the way to a woman’s heart through her funny bone?

Say what you will about the findings in evolutionary psychology—they certainly have good narratives. One of the latest, published in the July issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, uses sexual selection theory to argue that humor is important to men and women in heterosexual romantic contexts, albeit in different ways. According to the authors, men try to produce humor (i.e., be funny) in initial romantic encounters in order to attract partners, whereas women evaluate the humor used by their male counterparts to assess how attractive these men are. While guys trying to be funny and girls being attracted to funny guys seems more in line with romcom archetypes than scientific investigation, what the researchers were trying to figure out in the present set of studies was a) if this effect holds in real life, and b) what the root of it is (they are evolutionary scientists, after all).

In a nutshell, the answer to the first question appears to be yes. In a sample of heterosexual college students, researchers completed the following three studies.

In the first, they asked participants about their typical behavior when getting to know a potential romantic partner and found that men were significantly more likely to report producing humor, whereas women were more likely to report evaluating humor.

In another, they analyzed the content of online dating profiles and found that men were more likely to include content “offering humor production”(e.g., saying things like “I like to make jokes”), while women were more likely to request humor production (e.g., saying things like “looking for someone who can make me laugh”).

Their final study had men and women read humorous statements ostensibly in the “about me” section of an opposite-sex individual’s dating profile. Interestingly, the extent to which participants rated a profile as comical predicted women’s but not men’s romantic interest in the supposed owner of the profile. That is, women who thought the profile was funny reported being more interested in the profile owner than women who thought it wasn’t funny, whereas men who thought the profile was funny were no more likely to find the owner attractive than those who didn’t.

The origin of the humor-attraction link can only be speculative, but the authors suggest that it may be stemmed in women’s use of comedic talent as a marker of intelligence. Evidence for this hypothesis comes from the fact that women’s ratings of a potential partner’s humor and intelligence were tightly linked, whereas men’s were not. In line with sexual selection research, this idea would suggest that since women invest more in offspring, they are looking for markers that suggest their chosen mate will provide for their children’s well-being.  Whether a good one-liner is all it takes, however, is another question.