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I think everyone may have heard this at one time or another, but it's said that women prefer men with a "good sense of humor". The idea is so commonly held, it even has its own abbreviation on dating services: GSOH. I know I've seen this claim more than a few times over the years, but mostly in magazines known more for their fashion advice than their academic rigor. However, I came across this...

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The article here seems to contribute to this idea.

Has this claim ever been scientifically validated? Or is all the evidence merely anecdotal?

Could this be due to post-hoc rationalization, as Chris Rock noted when he said, "women don't like men with a sense of humor, they just like it when they guy they want to f@#k happens to be funny."

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    This makes me wonder if there is an evolutionary explanation ... and in consequence, do (some) animals have a sense of humour? – Oliver_C May 18 '11 at 9:42
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    Both sexes favor partners with a good sense of humor; I believe there have been cross-cultural studies done. The primary evolutionary reason women would favor a good-natured mate is for the sake of their children -- with human babies helpless and dependent for so long, and requiring massive parental investment, Mommy needs to be sure that Daddy doesn't strangle Junior in a fit of rage because Junior isn't quite competent at whatever just yet. Daddy has much the same interest, too, but less than Mommy's -- he cares less about the individual lives in his care, and more about the sum total. – Uticensis May 18 '11 at 9:59
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    Once the child is born, because Mommy can't birth as many children of her own genes as Daddy can father, she is much more wary of his good humor. – Uticensis May 18 '11 at 10:02
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    Is it really just a sexual attraction thing? I mean, wouldn't you like anyone (eg. friends, neighbours, parents, teachers, waiters, boss etc.) in your life more if they have a good sense of humour? – Samuelson May 18 '11 at 12:18
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    @Billare. I've seen men with a black eye. No, they didn't get it at the pub. – dbkk May 18 '11 at 14:30
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Tips for success with womenSource

From Psychology Today:

According to Eric Bressler, a psychologist at McMaster University in Canada, men and women don't mean the same thing when they say they value humor in a long-term partner.

[He] found that women want a man who is a humor "generator," while men seek a humor "appreciator."

[...]

... a German study found that when male and female strangers engaged in natural conversation, the degree to which a woman laughed while talking to a man was indicative of her interest in dating him.

How much the woman laughed also predicted the man's desire to date her.

On the flip side, how often a man laughed was unrelated to his interest in a woman.

  • (the study was conducted by Karl Grammer and Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, but at the moment I can't find it)



This study mentions in its abstract:

While there are a relatively small number of studies in the area, those looking at humour have found strong correlations between humour and increased attractiveness, but only for women rating men.



Psychologist Kristofor McCarty of Northumbria University:

"A quick browse of lonely hearts ads will confirm that women look for a good sense of humour in a potential partner - our research may explain why this is the case."

McCarty asked 45 women to rate the personalities behind a selection of lonely hearts ads drawn up especially for the study.

The funny men were rated as more intelligent, despite the ads containing no clues on IQ.
They were also seen as more honest and better material for a relationship and for friendship.



The results of this study:

... suggest that the human sense of humor evolved at least partly through sexual selection as an intelligence-indicator.



On the biological differences between men and women:

The Times - One day, girls, you will laugh at this

Experiments at Stanford University in California found that women use more parts of the brain than men to process jokes and have less expectation that they will find them funny.

The experiments found that women displayed more intense activity than men in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which controls language interpretation and in-depth analytical processes.

They took slightly longer to react to jokes that were funny, but enjoyed the punchlines more. Researchers, however, said the time difference was marginal.

  • Great links. I wonder whether sense of humor evolved as a social display of positive traits? – dbkk May 18 '11 at 14:41
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    @dbkk - of course it did. It shows off your mental abilities. – user5341 May 18 '11 at 16:11
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    The question is, do the women laugh more because the man is funny, and thus they find him attractive, or do they find him attractive and then laugh more in order to impress him? (since men, according to your sources, appreciate women who laugh at their humor). – crazy2be May 18 '11 at 21:59
  • @crazy2be - Certainly both is possible. – Oliver_C May 19 '11 at 10:59
  • @crazy2be I think women laughing at mans jokes is a form of mimicking.... – Matas Vaitkevicius Sep 27 '16 at 14:44
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The study Mate selection criteria: A trait desirability assessment study of sex differences in Serbia (PDF) gives the following table (my highlight) stating that yes, women do value a good sense of humour, but not above all else, and not significantly more so than men:

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The above figures are as rated by the men and women themselves, in questionnaires.

However, that study is somewhat of a fishing trip. Another study, looking specifically at The influence of humor on desirability finds the following:

Participants chose which person was a more desirable partner for a romantic relationship, and which individual was more likely to have several personality traits. Only women evaluating men chose humorous people as preferred relationship partners. For both sexes, humorous individuals were seen as less intelligent and trustworthy than their nonhumorous counterparts, but as more socially adept.

The conclusion might be that the topic is controversial, which you'll certainly find with a lot of studies on aspects of personality and psychology, and there could very well be cultural discrepancies.

In The influence of humor, participants were asked to identify the most desirable partner for a romantic relationship, using the same subjects, and having a humorous or neutral autobiographical description as the only variable. The difference in study design could potentially explain some of the discrepancies in the conclusions of the two studies, in that the former measures what traits people perceive that they value, and the latter measures to what extent they're actually taken into account. This means that the latter study could cover subconscious parts of decision making.

Another possible interpretation is that the two results are entirely compatible, and that this is exactly what you can expect when you're specifically testing a hypothesis, and compare that to result of a more qualitative study design. For instance, it is quite possible that the table from the first study matches exactly the weighting that was applied in the decision making in the second study. That could be explained by the other traits; e.g. Beauty - which is the only p<.01 difference, remember - might be so strong a determinant in the male respondents that the humorous/neutral tagline variable didn't affect the outcome, whereas the female respondents, quite in line with what the first study reports, doesn't pay as much attention to beauty, and therefore allow the humour variable to affect the outcome to a greater degree.

I do recall Richard Wiseman citing support for the idea that women do value humour significantly higher than men, in his book 59 Seconds, but I don't have it available at the moment to be able to check those sources, or even what the exact claims are.

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    Mmm, Amusing is on place 8, which some people would put equal to sense of humor. – Martin Scharrer May 18 '11 at 10:56
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    Is this by women saying what they prefer? You know women always say they prefer somebody and the guy turn out to be totally different. For example, sincerity is on the top here, but I will tell you many women, upon seeing a "sincere guy", will be turned off instantly. One example is when they see an online dating site ad that begin with "I am a senior product manager at a hi-tech firm"... just one line and they will mark this guy as "boring" and a "loser" – 太極者無極而生 May 18 '11 at 12:34
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    Based on people ranking what they value on a 1-7 scale in a survey. These correspond more to cultural norms and common clichés than actual criteria that people use to evaluate a mate. In USA, GTOH would rank more highly than in Serbia. Does anybody really value sincerity so much (#1 trait) -- I doubt brutally sincere people ("Yes, you're fat, and I have a lousy job") do too well. – dbkk May 18 '11 at 14:36
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    Ug. You know how I know it's self reported? Because "Physical Attractiveness" and "Capability to Earn" are both ranked below TIDINESS. "Yes you're attractive and you have a great job, but you're just not tidy enough for me." – Satanicpuppy May 18 '11 at 14:36
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    What people say they look for and what they really look for are two different things. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 18 '11 at 15:12
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I thought about this long time ago, and the main reason I thought of was: only a successful person or a person who knows he is good can joke a lot (and even joke about himself). For example, a student with a 4.00 GPA can joke, "nah, I was really stupid..." But a student with a 2.3 GPA will try his best to show that he is smart and never joke about himself being stupid, because he worries that he is in fact stupid.

Female pick up hint for that, that the man who is successful and can joke about himself, or know he is good and can joke about himself, is the one that female prefers, not because he can joke about things, but that he is successful (and/or he can fit in nicely in the world).

  • Being successful and being able to joke about yourself are completely independent qualities -- plenty of wealthy and successful CEOs will crush the career of a witty underling that wasn't quite smart enough to not poke fun at the boss, and plenty of mediocre plodders manage to smile just as much to jokes at their own expense as those about others. – Shadur May 18 '11 at 12:37
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    @Shadur but those "successful CEOs" probably are not as successful as you thought, because they care so much. If they are very successful, they probably won't care that much. Also, laugh at oneself is one thing, but somebody laughing at you (putting you down) might not be "humor", even for successful people. – 太極者無極而生 May 18 '11 at 12:44
  • This is more a comment than an answer – Lagerbaer May 18 '11 at 16:53
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    "How do you prove that they are absolutely correct" - Using science, you can show that a certain answer is most likely correct, or most likely wrong. Science, and especially social sciences, cannot deal in absolutes. Still, the result of a scientific peer-reviewed study is much better than the hunch of a single person. – Lagerbaer May 18 '11 at 23:10
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    Because this type of speculation is what leads to all the urban myths in the first place. Do you have a study showing that humor is really related to success? Couldn't it be equally valid that unsuccessful people make fun of others to mask their incompetence? Which of these contradicting situations is the real one? Only science can tell, not mere speculation. – Lagerbaer May 18 '11 at 23:44

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