Q. Have there been studies about male-female differences in humor?

A. Studies have shown that men and women typically differ in their use of and appreciation of humor. Males and females do not laugh at the same things and usually tend to become upset by different things.

Self-ridicule (subjective reality) is the basis of most humor used by women and may be one of the most significant differences between how men and women use humor. In general, males tend to laugh at others more than at themselves.

fMRI Studies have shown that when viewing funny cartoons, women activated the parts of the brain involved in language processing and working memory more than men did. Women were also more likely to activate with greater intensity the part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings in response to new experiences.

Several categories of humor have been identified including:

  • Cognitive humor - a fairly sophisticated type including off-the-wall humor (e.g., Larson's The Far Side cartoons). When you get the joke a sensation comes over you from the sudden mental integration of incongruous ideas, attitudes, or situations.
  • Conative humor - involves other people's misfortune including slapstick humor and the vagaries of life. It can produce a smug feeling of superiority such as when we laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel.
  • Affective humor - involves racial, cultural, ethnic, and so-called smutty jokes.
  • Orectic humor - combines conative and affective types of humor. Studies show that men and extroverted women are the most likely to appreciate orectic jokes.

Studies have indicated that females tend to find jokes less funny overall and may chuckle rather than laugh outright. (Does this contribute to a higher incidence of depression?) They tend to be less amused by what they perceive as poor jokes but tend to rate jokes defined as very funny even higher than do males.

In general, males give most jokes a higher rating, tend to find them funnier, and are more likely to laugh harder at them.