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Men with a sense of humor are perceived as being more attractive mates

Recent studies have shown that women prefer funny men, and that this sense of humor increases their attractiveness as a long-term mate. 

The research was conducted by Dr. Mitch Brown from the University of Arkansas, who set out to explore the role of humor in romantic contexts. 

The science of humor 

“What got me interested in this topic was a combination of wanting to understand the science of humor as a (mediocre) standup comedian and being dissatisfied with the manner in which seemingly complementary approaches to studying the function of humor mating domains did not integrate as clearly as they could have,” said Dr. Brown.

Sexual selection

“First, the sexual selection approach to humor focuses almost entirely on mating domains with less concern about how humor is such a ubiquitous process.”

Interest indicator model 

Nonetheless, whereas the interest indicator model can address humor’s dynamic function in forming social bonds, this approach has a challenge by itself in looking at the very apparent sex differences in humor production and quality that favor men due to women’s greater judiciousness in what they view as funny from a prospective mate.”

“I wanted to integrate these two approaches by specifically pitting attempts at humor production with whether the humor was actually funny itself. I did not think either the sexual selection or interest indicator approach to humor was more correct than the other, just that the role of their complementarity deserved an empirical test.”

Four studies

The research comprised four separate studies, each of which utilized different sample groups of women and presentation methods.

Study 1 

For this study, 162 women evaluating six men during hypothetical speed dating sessions based on a facial image and a corresponding statement (either a joke or a control statement). 

Participants gauged humor, potential attraction, friendliness, and willingness to share contact details.

Study 2 

This research engaged 81 women who were introduced to eight men with accompanying statements, funny or not. 

Here, the women assessed the funniness of each joke, the man’s dating success, intelligence, child-rearing skills, and earning potential.

Study 3 and 4 

These two studies took things a step further. Involving 109 and 141 women respectively, they rated the humor quality, the man’s attractiveness for both short- and long-term relationships, and compared attractive and unattractive faces in association with humorous content.

Results of the analysis

Dr. Brown highlighted that while merely attempting humor signifies friendliness, a genuinely funny attempt results in stronger attraction. 

This finding was particularly pronounced when assessing men for long-term relationships and was more significant if the man was deemed attractive. 

According to the research, successful humor not only conveys friendliness but also competence, intelligence, and the potential for a higher earning capacity.

Long-term mates

“In this work, the mere display of humor connotes friendliness to a prospective mate, which provides continued evidence for the interest indicator model of humor,” said Brown. 

“However, a failed attempt at humor from a man elicits no greater attraction than a control statement not intended to be funny. A humorous display that is actually funny will elicit both perceptions of friendliness and attraction from women, an effect that replicated through these studies.”

“Given the competence that successful humor use conveys, subsequent studies showed that this preference for actually funny men over unfunny men was most apparent in long-term mating contexts and when the funny man was most attractive.”

Unanswered questions

Dr. Brown’s studies are just the tip of the iceberg. Key questions remain, including how men evaluate humor from women, and the potential impact of different joke content on humor appreciation.

Moreover, while the studies focused on men producing humor and women evaluating it, Dr. Brown emphasized the need to avoid generalizations. Differences observed at a group level don’t necessarily apply to individuals. 

“Allow me to make this a bit of a PSA against the naturalistic fallacy… Even though women are more likely to evaluate humor while men produce it, these are merely descriptive differences and not prescriptive,” said Dr. Brown. 

“That is, I’m not saying that these sex differences should exist and be codified. People of either sex can be funny and judicious and group-level differences may not generalize to specific individuals.”

The research is published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.

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