Who Says Funny Women Aren't Sexy?

Psychologists find that humor makes men -- but not women -- appear more attractive to potential romantic partners.

12/09/2015 9:00 PM AEST | Updated 09/04/2016 7:36 AM AEST
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"A man can laugh a woman into bed, but funny females aren't attractive."

At least that's what the Daily Mail made of a provocative new study on the role of humor in romantic attraction.

The University of Kansas study, which was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, found that men who are able to make women laugh are more likely to win their affection. Funny women, however, were not any more attractive to prospective male partners.

Is the takeaway really that funny women aren't sexy, as the British tabloid would have us believe?

“Definitely not,” says Dr. Jeffrey Hall, a communications professor at the university and the study's lead author.

"The traditional sexual script in courtship ... includes all kind of expectations about how men and women are supposed to behave," Hall told The Huffington Post in an email. "Despite meaningful changes in the role of women in society, the script persists in influencing how men and women relate to one another."

Hall explained that men and women tend to use humor in different ways in romantic situations. While men generally use humor as a way to make a woman comfortable and gauge her interest in him, women assess a man's humor as a means of predicting the partnership's potential. In other words, men "entertain, cajole, and generate playful banter," while women evaluate and laugh along if they approve of the man's behavior. Women, according to the study, don't use their own humor to help influence or assess a romantic situation.

"There are many people who would argue that there is something inherently sexist with the script," Hall said. "I would agree with that criticism inasmuch that it puts limits on women’s behavior and plays to stereotypes about how a man and a woman is supposed to be."

So is there any hope for changing these scripts? Wendi Aarons, an award-winning humor writer and blogger, has some suggestions for challenging sexist behavioral norms. 

"By women not giving a f**k if a man thinks they're funny or not," Aarons told The Huffington Post. "By men being secure enough to know that they don't always have to try to be the funniest person in the room and that's okay."

The findings shouldn't be interpreted as suggesting that men don’t value a sense of humor in a romantic partner.

The study also found that when men and women laughed together, they were both more interested in each other. "The best chance of mutual attraction and mutual romantic interest is when both people are laughing," Hall said.

Both women and men consider humor an important trait in a romantic interest because it suggests the promise of a fun and joyful future relationship, Hall argues, and Aarons agrees.

"Find someone who laughs with you and vice versa because laughter will always save you,” Aarons added. “And I say that as someone who's been married for 23 years."

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