We all know that women like funny guys (how else do you explain Woody Allen's love life?), but empirical evidence for this phenomenon has been sorely lacking. Fortunately, in a recent study in the journal Psychological Reports, a French scientist took up the challenge of testing whether humor helps men pick up women.
In the study, "Men's sense of humor and women's responses to courtship solicitations: an experimental field study", the author (who you might remember from such classic studies as "Women's bust size and men's courtship solicitation" and "Bust size and hitchhiking: a field study" set out to test whether "producing humor might function as a fitness indicator associated with greater desirability during dating selection."
For the experiment, the researcher recruited several young "male confederates" (no, not the Southern kind) to help out. The guys sat in a bar near a woman, and one of them was instructed to tell (or, in the control condition, not tell) three jokes to his companions. These jokes had been previously chosen for their funniness by a panel of women, so we can only assume something has been lost in the translation from French:
"Two friends are talking: "Say, buddy, could you loan me 100 Euros?" "Well, you know I only have 60 on me." "Ok, give me what you've got and you'll only owe me 40."
A young teacher is interviewing for a position. He is asked: "Can you give me three reasons why you wanted to be a teacher?" The interviewee promptly answers: "December, June, and July."
A little boy asks his Dad, "What's a bank?" His Dad answers: "It's a place where you put your money for awhile, before the IRS takes it all away.""
The two companions were instructed to respond with phrases like "That's hilarious!" and "You always know the good ones!". The companions then left, and the joker asked the woman (who had overheard the whole charade) for her phone number. Finally, the woman was "debriefed" and asked to take a short survey to rate the guy on his attractiveness, intelligence, and sense of humor.
The result of these shenanigans? "The previous expression of humor was associated with greater compliance with the male confederate's request and with a higher positive evaluation." In other words, the guy who told jokes was rated as funnier and more attractive by the women, thus snagging him more phone numbers.
The author goes on to speculate about why women might be attracted to humor:
Humor for women may perhaps be interpreted as a personal trait related to intelligence; intelligence is an important trait in evaluating the probability of obtaining higher status and success in financial prospects. This effect could explain why men used humor more frequently than women because the lack of humor is associated with less interest in the female's mental activity.
So basically, the author thinks women like funny guys because it shows their intelligence, but men choose women for other reasons—perhaps (based on his other publications) bust size?
Lillian Fritz-Laylin and Meredith Carpenter run NCBI ROFL, a blog devoted to scientific malingering.