Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Who's Funny: Gender Stereotypes, Humor Production, and Memory Bias

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Who's Funny: Gender Stereotypes, Humor Production, and Memory Bias

Article excerpt

Abstract It has often been asserted, by both men and women, that men are funnier. We explored two possible explanations for such a view, first testing whether men, when instructed to be as funny as possible, write funnier cartoon captions than do women, and second examining whether there is a tendency to falsely remember funny things as having been produced by men. A total of 32 participants, half from each gender, wrote captions for 20 cartoons. Raters then indicated the humor success of these captions. Raters of both genders found the captions written by males funnier, though this preference was significantly stronger among the male raters. In the second experiment, male and female participants were presented with the funniest and least funny captions from the first experiment, along with the caption author's gender. On a memory test, both females and males disproportionately misattributed the humorous captions to males and the nonhumorous captions to females. Men might think men are funnier because they actually find them so, but though women rated the captions written by males slightly higher, our data suggest that they may regard men as funnier more because they falsely attribute funny things to them.

Keywords Humor effect . Humor . Stereotype . Gender . Source memory

It seems a truth-while perhaps not universally acknowledged, at least widely shared-that men are funnier than women (see, e.g., Lewis, 2000). Such a view has been expressed by men and women, and often in conjunction with firm assertions that men's humor advantage, if such it be, is not part of any general intellectual superiority (Greer, 2009; Hitchens, 2007). Presuming a reliable gender difference in humor production, various theories have been offered, including suggestions that humor, like the head butting of elk, is done to impress potential mates (Bressler, Martin, & Balshine, 2006). Consistent with such a notion, females indicate a preference for mates who makes them laugh, whereas males prefer a mate who laughs at their humor (Li, Griskevicius, Durante, Jonason, Pasisz & Aumer, 2009). There is also evidence that both genders comply, with women laughing more, and men making people laugh more (Provine, 2000, p.27; but see Kothoff, 2006). However, this evidence does not require that men actually be more capable of being funny, but could be due to some combination of emotional responsivity, differential effort, and pity. There are no direct tests of assertions about gender differences in the ability to be funny.

In this article, we explore explanations for the impression that men are funnier than women. It could be that the stereotype exists because it is true, and people have correctly observed the world. The impression could also exist without the stereotype's being true, if people's view of the world is systematically biased. In two studies, we explore these two possibilities. In the first, male and female participants wrote, or at least tried to write, funny captions to accompany cartoon images, and raters, also male and female, evaluated their success. The second study examined whether, in the context of a memory experiment, people would be more likely to recall funny things as having been produced by men. Previous work has shown that stereo- types, about occupations for example, can influence memory (e.g., Marsh, Cook, & Hicks, 2006; Mather, Johnson, & De Leonardis, 1999). If people give credit for funniness to men because they expect men to be funny, although it could not explain the origin of the stereotype, it could explain the stereotype's perpetuation.

Study 1

Phase 1: Humor production Participants A total of 32 undergraduates (16 male, 16 female) from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), participated for course credit.

Materials Twenty cartoon from The New Yorker's caption contest were compiled, together with a questionnaire that asked about gender as well as other demographic questions. …

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