To Be Funny or Not to Be Funny--That is the Question

The importance of a good sense of humor to attracting a mate

Posted Feb 22, 2016

Emily Shaub/Flickr
Source: Emily Shaub/Flickr

If you had to list the three most important characteristics you would look for in a dating partner, what would you choose?  Physical attractivenessIntelligence?  A good sense of humor?  Honesty?  Research shows that a good sense of humor is considered one of the most important traits in a potential mate by both men and women (Lippa, 2007; Buunk & Solano, 2010), especially in Western cultures (Toro-Morn & Sprecher, 2003). 

Some years ago my friend Rob* started seeing a new woman named Diane. During one of their early phone conversations Rob and Diane discussed a movie, and during this discussion Diane revealed her dry, sarcastic sense of humor.  I'm not sure if that was the moment when Rob knew that Diane was the girl for him, but once I heard the story of their conversation I knew that Rob and Diane were made for each other.  I predicted their relationship success not just because Diane had a good sense of humor, but because she had just the right sense of humor for Rob.  They have been married for almost 20 years. 

Gender Differences in the Importance of Humor

Although the anecdote above suggests that a sense of humor is important to my friend Rob, most research shows that a sense of humor is more important to women than to men.  For example, a good sense of humor was more often requested by women than men in their personal ads (Smith et al., 1990), and a good sense of humor was ranked as the most important trait by women and the third most important trait by men from a large international sample (Lippa, 2007).  Interestingly, in Lippa’s research, he found that a good sense of humor was equally important to lesbian and straight women but more important to straight rather than gay men. 

Having a good sense of humor may make you more attractive to potential partners, however, consistent with the importance of humor discussed above, this benefit may enhance the attractiveness of men more so than women (Bressler & Balshine, 2006; Lundy, Tan, & Cunningham, 1998).  Although in recent research (McGee & Shevlin, 2009), both men and women described as having a great sense of humor were perceived as more attractive, the other conditions in this research project involved labeling potential partners as having either no sense of humor or an average sense of humor.   It seems we all prefer a better sense of humor to a worse sense of humor.  Furthermore, a good sense of humor only improves men's dating desirability when they are physically attractive.  A good sense of humor may not improve your dating outcomes if you are perceived as physically unattractive to a potential partner (Lundy et al., 1998). 

Would You Use Humor to Attract a Mate?

Although a good sense of humor may not always make you seem more attractive, both men and women say that they would be likely to use humor if they wanted to attract a new potential partner (Li et al., 2009).  Interestingly, Li et al. also found that not only are those with a sense of humor rated as more attractive, but more attractive men and women are also seen as funnier than their less attractive counterparts.  This result may stem from a general trend to assume that attractive individuals possess other positive characteristics (Dion et al., 1972). 

However, being perceived as having a good sense of humor does not come without costs.  Some research reveals that people who are rated as funny are also rated as less intelligent and trustworthy (Bressler & Balshine, 2006; Lundy et al., 1998).  Even though intelligence and trustworthiness are also important traits in mate selection, especially to women, women do seem more likely to choose humorous individuals as potential dating partners even when those potential dates are seen as less intelligent and trustworthy (Bressler & Balshine, 2006).    

So the answer is yes, if you have a good sense of humor, then use it, but especially if you are a straight attractive man looking for a female partner!

Portions of this post were taken from The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships Copyright 2015 Palgrave.   

If you are interested in learning more about humor and attractiveness, please check out our book, The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships at https://he.palgrave.com/page/detail/?sf1=barcode&st1=9781137324825 or on Amazon.  

Emily Shaub/Flickr
Source: Emily Shaub/Flickr

 *All names have been changed

References:

 Bressler, E. R., & Balshine, S. (2006). The influence of humor on desirability. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27(1), 29–39. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2005.06.002

Buunk, A. P., & Solano, A. (2010). Conflicting preferences of parents and offspring over criteria for a mate: A study in Argentina. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(4), 391–399. doi:10.1037/a0020252

Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,24(3), 285–290. doi:10.1037/h0033731

Li, N. P., Griskevicius, V., Durante, K. M., Jonason, P. K., Pasisz, D. J., & Aumer, K. (2009). An evolutionary perspective on humor: Sexual selection or interest indication? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(7), 923–936. doi:10.1177/0146167209334786

Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(2), 193–208. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9151-2

Lundy, D. E., Tan, J., & Cunningham, M. R. (1998). Heterosexual romantic preferences: The importance of humor and physical attractiveness for different types of relationships. Personal Relationships, 5(3), 311–325. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1998.tb00174.x

McGee, E., & Shevlin, M. (2009). Effect of humor on interpersonal attraction and mate selection. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 143(1), 67–77. doi:10.3200/JRLP.143.1.67-77

Smith, J. E., Waldorf, V., & Trembath, D. L. (1990). “Single White male looking for thin, very attractive…”. Sex Roles,23(11–12), 675–685. doi:10.1007/BF00289255

Toro-Morn, M., & Sprecher, S. (2003). A cross-cultural comparison of mate preferences among university students: The United States vs. the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 34(2), 151–170.