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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Today in things that make us scream incoherently

Scientists “Prove” Men Are Funnier Than Women


A group of researchers from the University of New Mexico conducted an Official Scientific Study and determined that “humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males.” In fact, that was the title of the study. So, to sum this up: a bunch of scientists got together for a beer one day and said, “Comedians get all the girls! Stupid comedians!” And then they cried into the aforementioned beer and got funding for a scientific study based on something that is entirely subjective and involved non-comedians writing comedy. They hijacked comedy and tried doing science to it.

Before we get all angry over this, let’s get something straight from the start: This is balderdash. Poppycock. Fuzzy math. All of it. No one can define what is funny or who is the funniest — especially quantitatively — because what’s funny to one only has a partial chance of being funny to someone else. Look at Tim & Eric. Also look at the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. See what I mean?

This was the experiment to determine the incidence of humor: 400 college students — 200 males, 200 females — were asked to write captions for three cartoons. First of all, this is a hard enough task for a professional comedy writer. Because writing comedy is hard. Second of all, while college students can absolutely be funny, think of the official, serious comedy groups on any given college campus. The percentage of comedians to the number of students in the student body is tiny. There can actually be funny college students among these 400, but maybe 10 of them have successfully written a monologue or a sketch. The rest are happy to be consumers of comedy. So, scientists are asking people who have no desire to write comedy to write comedy, and then judge their ability to be funny after they complete this assignment. No bothering with using actual cartoonists, writers, artists, nothing like that. Just 400 random college students. Being judged by scientists, more non-comedians.

Here’s the thing: this study is stupid. In every way. Yes, many of us are sexually attracted to funny people. And people from both genders are funny. We didn’t need a scientific study to determine that. Many of us are conducting our own personal experiments on that very subject without even having to ask for money.

But why do this experiment at all? The objective of this study doesn’t seem to be the gender-related result; it was to connect intelligence and humor (yes, one needs the former in order to be successful at the latter — duh) and then connect that to sexual attractiveness. It was not intended to test relative “funnyness” of genders, and so really shouldn’t be used as proof of that. Maybe as a good start to go back with a differently structured study… but that’s still leaving aside the issue of quantitatively assessing an inherently subjective trait.

I should add that I do happen to know one scientist who is, in fact, a real comedian. He is very funny and happily married (to a professionally funny woman). So this is clearly not the case for all scientists. Just the lame ones. And if 100% of all these scientists were also professional comedians, then we will revisit this in the future.

Men and women are both funny. We all knew that without science.

(top pic via xkcd; Science Direct via Mental Floss)

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  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    I don’t think you need to be a professional comedian to find something funny.

    I think they went about the study reasonably well, about as well as you can go about studying something that’s so subjective. If they had chosen 400 professional and semi professional comedians then it would not have been a true representation of “joe public” (also very hard to find 400 pros and semi pros willing to take part).

    Do we actually know how the judging was done? I can’t see the full methodology as I’m not paying $31 for the privilege. If /I/ were conducting this study, the first method to spring to mind would be a completely anonymous survey. Take a sample of 400 people (just because I like symmetry), 200 male and 200 female, and ask them to say how funny, on a scale of one to ten each caption is. I would also make sure that they viewed the captions at random so no two people saw the same sequence of captions. The higher the number of judges, of course, the broader the results.

    Then compare the marks for the captions written by men and women. This would also allow other comparisons; do men and women find the captions written by the opposite or the same gender funnier, for example.

    And this is completely ignoring LGBT factors/non-factors… sorry, going off on one.

    These are reasonably high numbers they are working with. It’s not like they just went to a student stand up show that presented three funny men, one unfunny man and one unfunny woman and decided that women aren’t funny.

    The point of the study, as with many studies, was to “prove” a hypothesis that might already have been generally accepted as true OR to show it to be untrue, depending on which way the numbers went. The abstract also implies that they were looking to show an evolutionary link between humour and intelligence; humour being an indicator of IQ to potential mates. Science likes to prove things, even well known things and then go about finding a reason for these things… I give you Sir Isaac Newton and his apple.

    A lot of psychological studies go about attempting to discover the inner workings and genetic history of things that are very complex and subjective through quantitative methods. This is not a bad thing. The ONLY way to properly go about any study is through quantifiable research. If this study had not been in some way quantitative, but still found the same results then we would be calling “bad methodology.” How would it be viewed if the study’s methodology was completely flawed (see above student comedy club idea) but had found women to be funnier?

    Of course, this is all me going off the assumption that their methodology was reasonably sound. I am fully willing to retract all remarks if their methodology was in fact one man looking through the captions and writing LOL on the ones he found funny. Well, not all remarks; those about quantitative psychological studies and science wanting to find the why and how of all things would still stand.

    (can you tell I just downed a cup of coffee?)

  • Anonymous

    I want to laugh at these researchers, but I fear they’d only use it as evidence against me.

  • Anonymous

    My husband has a doctorate in computer science.  He tells horrible jokes, just awful.  They can suck the conversation out of the room in seconds.  However, those terrible jokes not only make me laugh, but they make me want to leap on him and chew the buttons off his shirt.

    Comedy + smarts = attraction is not scientifically quantifiable, but oh boy does it exist.  My husband also finds me hilarious and sexy because I am smart.

    And not to offend anyone, but using college students to generate humor is similar to going to the Playboy mansion and giving all the models a typewriter.  Sure art will be generated but it is going to have a high concentration of boobs and alcohol references not representative of society at large.  If we are going to gender stereotype let’s point out that type of humor usually has a higher occurrence in pre-adolescent and adolescent boys than girls, meaning the male subjects are likely to be more experienced in this field.

  • http://thehappylogophile.wordpress.com/ Jo Eberhardt

    I’d like to know what method they used for determining whether something was funny. As Shard Aerliss said, the experiment in itself isn’t all bad – assuming they used appropriate methodology to determine relative amusement.

    There are so many factors that influence whether the experiment has any merit. Since the original aim was to judge the relationship between IQ and humor, did they record the IQs of the people who took part? Was there a similar IQ curve between the men and women who chose to take part? Did the subjects know what they were volunteering for when they volunteered? Were the volunteers of a similar age? Was the person/s who judged the contest male or female? The same age or older than the participants?

    I find it unlikely that, on a broad scale, men are funnier than women. Experience (ie. life) has taught me that some men are funnier than some women, but some women are funnier than some men. I also know that some people think my husband is a riot and I’m boring as the proverbial, while others just stare at my husband with a blank expression while giggling hysterically at everything I say.

    But it’s ridiculous to just write off the results an experiment as being “stupid in every way” because the results don’t conform to your idea of what’s “right”. Sure, look at their methodology and point out the flaws in the argument. I’m sure they’re there. But jumping around and saying they’re wrong “just because” makes you no better than them – and probably worse, because they at least put together an experiment (however good or bad) to try to support their argument.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IGRK4BKTKC5RGO56RXTUEVFJSM ainok

    I’m interested in the way culture might contribute to a person’s “funnyness.” A major component of the way I was raised involved the need to be as funny as possible at all times. That might sound a bit weird, but after years of learning how to make jokes pretty consistently, given a wide variety of stimuli, I now have  brain wired for humor. I doubt this is universal, however. So I’m wondering how other girls are brought up, and if they’re taught that humor and the ability to snap out a one-liner is an important skill. Likewise, to what extent are boys brought up with an expectation that they be funny? This is kind of an important question–like any skill, actually being funny is something you have to practice almost constantly. It requires a  huge backlog of sociocultural knowledge that needs to be maintained and utilized, continuously. It also requires the type of personality that makes it possible to put yourself forward to the necessary extent to, for example, make a classroom of 25 people laugh–during class. What impact has upbringing had on perceived ability to be funny? Are there variations across cultures? Does our tendency to bombard girls with Disney Princesses rob them of the ability to appreciate Monty Python and create a tendency toward delicate flower type personalities, who thus go on to be unfunny individuals? Inquiring minds want to know! (Well, mine does, anyway.)

  • Anonymous

    It’s a terrible affliction. I cry myself to sleep over how not funny I am.

    Someone should point out them that just because we are not laughing at their jokes, does not mean we don’t get them. It could — now here’s a novel idea– just be that your douchy jokes are not funny.

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  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    But they used 200 men AND 200 women, and we don’t know exactly who judged, or how they judged the comedy value of the captions.

  • http://twitter.com/maverynthia Maverynthia

    I wonder if men were found “more funny” because they were more likely to tell insensitive gendered jokes VS women.

  • http://www.facebook.com/liam2404 Liam Terry

    i remember something on QI where they discussed the idea that people in general where more inclined to laugh at men than women, this is not really to do with said study but is an iteresting idea all the same