Humor and Sexual Selection

October 5, 2007 | By | 2 Replies More

People who are asked to rate the importance of various traits for romantic relationships, a good sense of humor is consistently at or near the top of their lists. Geoffrey Miller has concluded additonal work on the importance of a sense of humor to attract mates, resulting in a paper entitled, “The Role of Creativity and Humor in Human Mate Selection.” One of Miller’s main conclusions:  “Women seemed to be viewing humor production ability as a reliable cue of many other desirable fitness-related traits.”  It is important to note, though, that men and women mean different things by “a good sense of humor.”

Men prefer women who appreciate their humor, while women prefer men who make them laugh (Bressler, Martin, & Balshine, 2006). This is consistent with Provine’s (2000) analysis of over 3,000 singles ads, in which women were more likely to offer good humor appreciation, whereas men were more likely to offer good humor production ability. Furthermore, Bressler and Balshine (2006) found that women rated humorous men as better potential partners, and as more friendly, fun, and popular. Women did not show any such preference for humorous women as potential friends. Additionally, a man’s view of other men’s or women’s personality attributes was uninfluenced by how funny such others were.

Although much additional work is required, it is clear that a sense of humor plays a key role in attracting mates:

In sum, mounting evidence supports the view that sexual selection favored the evolution of humor production ability as a fitness indicator, and humor appreciation ability as a mate choice mechanism. In particular, males and females value different aspects of humor in potential mates (females like funny males, and males like appreciative females), female and male brains respond to humor differently (females process linguistic aspects of humor more efficiently and show greater activation in reward centers), and females near peak fertility are especially attracted to males who display creativity and humor. These sex differences and cycle shifts build upon the basic psychometric distinctions between humor production, comprehension, and appreciation, which are related to each other and to intelligence and creativity in ways that are also consistent with sexual selection theory and fitness indicator theory. Since mating intelligence consists of the cognitive arsenal used to attract and retain mates, the findings so far suggest that humor, as an indicator of both creativity and intelligence, is an important part of that arsenal. 

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Category: Evolution, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. They should have given a definition of what kind of humour they are talking about. I hate Adam Sandler and cocky/funny guys get on my nerves, too. Stephen Colbert, on the other hand, is extremely cute and if he was interested in me I'd totally appreciate his humour. 😀

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Projektleiterin: Miller (like many before him) struggles with a definition of humor: "Up to this point, we’ve mentioned humor several times, without describing in detail what we mean by it. Like creativity and intelligence, humor is a complex construct that eludes a unified description or definition. Hundreds of studies have examined the psychological nature of humor, but surprisingly few have conceptualized humor as an individual-differences skill or trait."

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