We all love a good joke, but what we find funny is individual to each of us. Or is it? Does our gender influence our sense of humor? According to one new study that identified some similarities (but also some differences) in what men and women find funny, it might not be as ridiculous a question as it sounds.
The findings, published in the appropriately named journal Humor, suggest that “men rate visual jokes more highly than women do, whereas women prefer jokes that involve political commentary or the dynamics of close relationships.” Meanwhile, jokes about the complexities of romantic relationships had both rolling in the aisles.
These observed differences are likely reflective of how we socialize, the study’s authors theorize, rather than being indicative of some biological difference.
To reach these conclusions, the team made use of an exhibition of print cartoons dating from 1930 to 2010 at The Cartoon Museum, London. Data was collected from 3,380 people, who were asked to judge 19 pairs of cartoons and declare their age and gender.
“Cartoons have become a regular feature of our cultural life, both as a vehicle to amuse and as a way of making political and social comments in the form of satire,” the researchers explain of their choice to study them. As such, they represent a way of conveying complex ideas in a simple visual form and “provide us with novel insights into aspects of our psychology that are often difficult to study”.
Each of the participants, who stated their gender as either male or female, had to rate which joke in each pair tickled them more. In general, the more complex jokes were more positively received than those that relied on simpler, more slapstick humor.
Just as in verbal jokes, the number of mindstates – understanding the intentions of a third party, ie “I know what she’s thinking about what he’s saying” – affected the reception to the cartoon. Those with more mindstates were more likely to have people in stitches, but only up to a certain limit, at which point they become too confusing.
A person’s age didn’t significantly affect how funny they found a cartoon, nor did the date of its publication – but the same can’t be said for their gender.
“Of all the results, it is perhaps the gender differences that are the most surprising: we did not anticipate that these would be as large as they are,” they write.
Their findings suggest that, in general, women give higher ratings to a wider range of topics, and are more likely to be bent double by jokes about politics and intimate relationships. Men, on the other hand, preferred slapstick or situational humor, while both were found to have a giggle at jokes about the dynamics of social relationships.
“We argue that these differences in humor preference arise from the remarkable differences in social style of the two sexes,” the study’s lead author Professor Robin Dunbar said in a statement. “This explanation has previously been overlooked because psychologists and others have concentrated on IQ-type differences, which are minimal.”
We wonder how the world’s oldest bar joke would go down.
The study is published in the journal Humor.