Humor and Relationships

Women want a man with a sense of humor, and continuing research shows how important this trait is when selecting a mate.

Researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine performed brain scans of 22 girls and boys ages 6 to 13 while they watched funny video clips and other, neutral clips of dancers, snowboarders, and nature.

The scans revealed that girls’ brains responded more strongly to the humorous videos, showing, the researchers wrote in Social Neuroscience, “humor processing might be more effective in females than males because the female brain, and particularly the reward circuit, is biologically better prepared to respond accordingly.”

One possible explanation is that greater humor appreciation in women is innate, not learned, and could be explained by Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. 

Earlier Stanford research explored how women and men process what they each think is funny. The team found that, while they share numerous similarities, women are less likely to have the expectation of a reward—like the punch line of a joke—and are more pleased when they get it. Women are also more susceptible to humor at times of the month when they are most fertile.

Oakland-based comic Aly Jones said she couldn’t agree more that humor is important in mate selection. While Aly gets attention making people laugh on stage, her husband, Rhys, cracks her up regularly, which is one reason she married him.

“We fall asleep each night making each other laugh,” she told Healthline.

While men may need to rely on humor to find a quality mate, some take this body of research to mean that men are funnier than women because they have to be.

‘Women Aren’t Funny’

In 2007, famed (and now deceased) author Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Vanity Fair titled “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” This inflammatory statement is offered repeatedly by some men who believe women aren't capable of comedic genius.

Using the previous Stanford research to back up his claim, Hitchens argued that men need to be funny in order to fulfill their biological calling to reproduce. The ability to make a woman laugh is one of the few tools men have to woo women.

“If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression,” Hitchens wrote.

Jones says the women-aren’t-funny argument is so preposterous that it’s barely worth taking the time to respond.

“I think it’s ridiculous, obviously, and not just from a self-serving standpoint. What it really comes down to is that humor has flavors,” she said. “Everyone is funny to someone. Somewhere out there, there’s someone who gets you.”

More on Healthline