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Is Humor or Intelligence More Attractive to a Potential Mate?

A new study finds surprising results regarding intelligence and dating.

Key points

  • Researchers investigated how being smart and being funny relate to someone's appeal as a potential mate in a dating situation.
  • The findings suggest that objectively measured intelligence does not increase mate appeal—however, being funny does.
  • Men who were perceived as funny and perceived as physically attractive were assessed by women as having higher mate appeal.
Source: baranq/Shutterstock

Humans are pretty smart. Smarter than any other animal species, in fact—no other species creates advanced technology such as smartphones or space flight, writes lengthy novels, or builds such architectonical masterpieces as pyramids or skyscrapers.

But why, over the course of evolution, did our brains develop to be capable of high intelligence?

Evolutionary psychologists have developed several answers to this question. One could argue that our intelligence is higher than expected if survival were the only evolutionary force driving it. After all, many animal species without a lot of brain cells also survive pretty well.

Therefore, it has been suggested that it's not natural selection (e.g., the evolutionary process driven by survival) but instead sexual selection (the evolutionary process driven by success at attracting mates) that is the driving force behind our extraordinary intelligence.

In short, high intelligence has been proposed to act as a so-called “fitness marker” that shows potential mates that someone has great genes. If this idea were true, people should find potential partners in a dating situation more attractive if they are smarter.

This hypothesis was tested in a new evolutionary psychology study, now published in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior (Driebe et al., 2021). The scientists analyzed data from two studies to assess whether objectively measured intelligence is being perceived as attractive in a dating situation.

Testing the Importance of Intelligence and Humor in Dating

In the first study, researchers tested intelligence in 88 men. Then, the scientists recorded short video clips of these men and showed them to 179 women who rated each man regarding intelligence, funniness, physical attractiveness, and mate appeal.

The results were quite surprising. According to the intelligence test, objectively more intelligent men actually had a slightly lower mate appeal to the women who rated them than less objectively intelligent men. Importantly, being perceived as intelligent by the raters was associated with higher mate appeal, independent of actual intelligence. Being perceived as funny and perceived as physically attractive was also associated with higher mate appeal to women.

Since the video rating situation in experiment 1 had little to do with an actual date, the scientists also conducted a second experiment. In this experiment, 729 participants took part in several 3-minute speed-dating sessions.

Their intelligence was objectively measured, comparable to experiment 1. They rated each other’s intelligence, funniness, and mate appeal. Like in the first experiment, people perceived as more intelligent and funnier were rated as having a higher mate appeal. Objectively measured intelligence, however, did not predict mate appeal. This association was found for both men and women.

What Does This Mean for Daters?

The theory that humans developed high intelligence due to sexual selection suggests that high objectively measured intelligence should be attractive to the other sex. The study's findings suggest that this is not the case, as, in both experiments, objectively measured intelligence was not associated with higher mate appeal.

What do the results of the study mean in terms of dating advice? To answer the question from the title of the blog post: The findings of the study suggest that being funny is more important than being smart.

Specifically, being perceived as funny is more relevant for being an attractive potential partner than being very intelligent as measured with an intelligence test. What's more, being perceived as smart was relevant for mate appeal, but not actually being intelligent. This is an important distinction, as it suggests that good impression management may be more relevant than actual intelligence.

Facebook image: baranq/Shutterstock


Julie C. Driebe, Morgan J. Sidari, Michael Dufner, Juliane M. von der Heiden, Paul C. Bürkner, Lars Penke, Brendan P. Zietsch, Ruben C. Arslan (2021). Intelligence can be detected but is not found attractive in videos and live interactions. Evolution and Human Behavior, in press.