How do women and men perceive humor
As I did my research for this essay, I came across quite an impressive number of studies, articles and books while having a high expectation to laugh in the process. How can I read something about humor without laughing? That was the first joke on me, a clear violation of the expectation that all studies on humor must be funny or filled with explicit examples of jokes. As Rod Martin put it, expecting humor research to be funny is analogous to assuming that writings about human sexuality should be sexually arousing.
I came to the conclusion, that humor is a more complex and fascinating cognitive function than we thought, at times diminished by the ease of how we use it. Humor seems to be a function of Homo sapiens improved social abilities and as an extension of language. As such, we should separate laughter and humor. We might watch, appreciate and perceive humor and not crack a smile, while we can be tickled to death and laugh out loud without being humored. But let me humor you.
The most part of "getting it" depends upon the ability to perceive the state of mind of the person with whom one is in communication. Therefore, without the theory of mind (mirror neurons, implicitly), humor would not stand a chance.
It has been argued that the purpose of humor is to prevent people "from acting upon or taking seriously conditions and conclusions into which they are misled by the misapplication of natural processes of human reasoning" (Chafe, 1987). Alexander has argued that the purpose of humor is to manipulate the status of the humorist and that of others, creating cohesiveness among some and ostracizing others (Alexander, 1986).Dunbar has hypothesized that humor is a form of vocal grooming , with the endogenous opiates being released during laughter and facilitating social bonding (Dunbar, 1996). Miller has argued that laughter shows off one s creativity and thus his or her fitness as a mate (Miller, 2000). About all these we shall speak later.
Laughter is known to release endorphins in much the same way as grooming does andthis has led to the suggestion that the exaggerated forms of laughter characteristic of humans might have evolved as a device for enlarging the effective size of grooming groups through a form of "grooming-at-a-distance". However, there may be an optimal group size for laughter to occur (Dunbar, 2012).
Evolution of humor
The Psychology of Humor by Rod Martin points out a few aspects that I shall mention briefly. Key reasons humor is a product of natural selection and why evolutionary explanations should be considered. Among the major points: people laugh in every society in the world; laughter develops spontaneously in babies at about four months old; blind and deaf babies smile involuntarily.
Evolutionary speaking, laughter evolved from the panting behavior of our ancient primate ancestors. If tickled, chimps and gorillas don t laugh "ha ha ha" but they rather exhibit a panting sound. That s the sound of ape laughter. And it s the root of human laughter. When we laugh, we re often communicating playful intent. So laughter has a bonding function within individuals in a group. It s often positive, but it can be negative too. There s a difference between "laughing with" and "laughing at." People who laugh at others may be trying to force them to conform or casting them out of the group." Humor seems to inject positive feelings while hierarchal competition and other minor social quarrels are being worked out.
Evolution shaped any phenotype that had a connection to genotype and has existed over a number of generations. The ability to generate and perceive humor is a biological process - a cognitive trait - almost certainly dependent on a corresponding genetically based neurological substrate. Fry dates the elements of contemporary humor to 6.5 million years ago. However, the last common ancestor of humans and orangutans, which is approximately 14 millions old. This means that the rudimentary origins of laughter could be at least 14 million years old.
There is no way to know with certainty when humor evolved relative to language
although it would appear that at least sophisticated humor must have succeeded language. The credible range for the origins of language lands between a few hundred thousand years to about 2-4 million years ago.
Some authors believe that larger brains seem to be fundamentally related to language because the majority of higher cognitive functions appear to have been "designed" specifically to support language functions. Working memory, long-term memory, executive functions and rich associative thinking make significant demands on neural networks and are simultaneously integral to language function. Capacity for theory-of- mind and other enhanced social abilities may also necessitate significant cerebral computing power.
Alexander (1986) figured that humor led to greater reproductive success by enhancing one s social standing through ostracizing others. Ostracism steers "conflicts and confluences of interest" ultimately altering access to resources. Humor is considered one method of social ostracism. Thus, according to Alexander, the major benefits of telling jokes are varied and include 1) raising one s own status, 2) lowering the status of certain individuals and 3) raising the status of designated listeners and thereby enhancing camaraderie or social unity.
Weisfeld (1993) proposed a general humor theory suggesting humor provides valuable social information to others while laughter provokes pleasurable feelings that positively reinforce the humorist. In return, the humorist gets forthcoming reciprocation by putting an ally in a favorable disposition. It is an interesting hypothesis although difficult to critique given that the mechanics of mammalian cooperation are exceedingly complex and yet unsolved (Wilson, 1975, 2000).
Ramachandran s (1998) "false alarm theory" suggests "the main purpose of laughter is for the individual to alert others in the social group that the anomaly detected by that individual is of trivial consequence". Ramachandran further speculates that the cognitive perspective necessary to distinguish between trivial and serious could have somehow evolved into a cognitive framework that classifies congruous and incongruous components of humor.
Noticing that both laughter and social grooming release endogenous opiates, Barrett, Dunbar and Lycett (2002) have speculated that the enjoyment associated with humor eventually replaced the pleasure associated with social grooming in primates. In each case, the feelings of gratification positively reinforce each respective behavior. These ideas are based on the hypothesis that language eventually replaced social grooming as the principal social bonding device between hominids (Dunbar, 1993; Aiello and Dunbar, 1993). In this context, humor and laughter would have facilitated the development of language by maintaining a pleasurable association to conversation.
There are several reasons to suppose humor and laughter could be evolutionarily adaptive. As previously mentioned, the complexity of humor implicates an established genetic substrate that in turn could suggest evolutionary adaptiveness. Given that even a simple joke can utilize language skills, theory-of-mind, symbolism, abstract thinking, and social perception, humor may arguably be humankind s most complex cognitive attribute.
Some authors believe that for each humorous account there are nine functions of humor: 1) expressing superiority, 2) indirect expression of anger, 3) indirect expression of sexual feelings, 4) desire for approval or diverting attention from a misdeed (saving face), 5) signaling affiliation to a specific subset of individuals, 6) enhancing group cohesiveness or settling differences in a positive manner, 7) signaling to others that a discrepancy or anomaly is trivial (Ramachandran, 1998), 8) expressing an idea that is simultaneously normal but also violates a social or moral expectation (Veatch, 1998), and 9) play.
More recent studies claimed that men make women laugh as they want to get them in bed. A laughing woman opens her mouth, exposes her teeth and throat, makes the "hahahaha" sounds, tilts her head back and that by itself is foreplay. But, while women appear to prefer a man who makes them laugh (82% of women consistently rank humor as one of the top 3 qualities of men they want to date) the same does not hold true when the sexes are reversed - and men are not more attracted to funny girls. Humor is a quality that gets women in bed, and which seems to only be appreciated by women, required in men. So yes, it is a no brainer that laughter leads to sex, unless of course the laughter isabout sex, at which point the laughter ensures that there will be no more sex. After all, what does a behaviorist tell to another after lovemaking: "Darling, that was wonderful for you. How was it for me?"
Children s Humor
Because ontogeny can sometimes recapitulate phylogeny, the maturation of humor in children could perhaps have some evolutionary relevance.
Smiling and laughter occur within the first year of life and are triggered by stimuli separate from the conventional processes associated with adult humor. As children grow, they develop the mindreading ability to represent beliefs in themselves and in others, more like adults do. The Inner Eye theory predicts that the types of mental state representations that children can make would limit the types of laughter they can produce. One-year-old infants laugh in games of tickling, chasing and peek-a-boo (Shultz, 1976). These all are instances, in which the infants own senses are falsified. By 18 months of age, children start engaging in pretend play by treating objects as things different than what they are and show this understanding by laughter (Leslie, 1988). Between the ages 3 and 5, children become able to attribute a false belief in a situation humorous to kids at those ages (Mayes, Klin, and Cohen, 1994). Between the ages of 5 and 7, children become able of attributing second-order ignorance and this ability is required to discriminate between a lie and a joke (Sullivan et al., 1995).
Shultz linked four primitive forms of "humor" - smiling in infancy, peek-a-boo, tickling and chase games - to formal incongruity models of humor and viewed infant smiling as a pleasurable response to perceived mastery over a situation.
The Peek-a-boo game also has possible analogues with conventional humor. Object permanence forms around 6 -12 months and when it is well formed in infants, no explicit anxiety is caused by having items temporarily out-of-view. Seeing mother s face, for example, solves the incongruence and elicits smiling.
Tickling, chase games, and other forms of play have an intuitive appeal for all children.
Koestler (1964) framed tickling as a "mock attack" and therefore evolutionary adaptive. Tickling and chase games fall within a certain window of arousal similar to humor.
By about 7 or 8 years old, children s humor approaches that of an adult although it understandably lacks the same richness. In a series of experiments with children 6, 8, 10, and 12 years, 6 year-olds understood the incongruities in a story but failed to recognize the resolvable elements (Schultz, 1976, 1996). Children aged 8 and older appreciated both elements. The timing coincides with the usual advent of concrete operational thought in children. Similarly, theory-of-mind researchers have shown that children under age 6 have a particular difficult time distinguishing lies from jokes (Winner, Brownell, Happe, Blum, and Pincus, 1998).
Neurobiology of Humor
The appreciation of jokes and cartoons is related to the ventromedial frontal lobe, an area with little activity in patients with depression and in which lesions may alter the person s sense of humor. Now, if you are not laughing while watching Tony Blair bashing atheists as the new terrorist threat within, you just could have a ventromedial frontal lobe issue. Or the man could be a plain idiot.
Delineation of the neural pathways responsible for humor could have evolutionary significance, especially if the phylogenic history of the human brain could be precisely retraced. The elucidation of the neurobiology of humor has benefited from two approaches: 1) observing the effects of various brain lesions on humor perception and 2) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies which monitor brain activity in normal subjects while perceiving humor.
Gardner, Ling, Flamm, and Silverman (1975) demonstrated humor deficits in both left and right hemispheric damaged subjects. However, subtle distinctions between subjects may not have been possible since all sixty subjects were inpatients and therefore likely to have had considerable cognitive impairment.
Shammi and Stuss (1999) concluded that right frontal lobe lesions most disrupted humor appreciation. However, it was not clear whether subjects with right-sided lesions demonstrated greater general impairment. That particular study exposed that the integrity of humor perception is subservient to numerous cognitive skills such as working memory, long-term memory, executive functions, emotional expression and language skills.
Mobbs et al (2003) used captioned funny cartoons versus non funny ones and showed that humorous content primarily activated, the left temporal-occipital junction, left inferior frontal gyrus, left temporal pole, left supplementary motor area, left dorsal anterior cingulate and bilateral subcortical structures including ventral striatum, nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmentum area and amygdale, which are key components of the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system. The authors point out a similar pattern is commonly observed in "monetary and video-game reward tasks" (p. 1043).
Consolidating the results of all neuroanatomical humor perception studies reveals two general patterns: 1) the integrity of humor may rely more heavily on right - hemispheric structures and 2) the prefrontal cortex seems intimately involved (the involvement of the temporal lobes is probably related to the language component of humor).
Humor and Pathology
A couple of uniparental disomy disorders suggest a genetic relationship between laughter and cry --at the very least suggesting that genes on the same chromosome, #15, are influential in both behaviors: inheriting both chromosomes #15 from the father causes Angelman syndrome, which often includes inappropriate outbursts of laughter. Inheriting both copies from the mother results in Prader-Willi syndrome, which includes a weak cry. There also might be gender differences in the predilection to laugh, which could implicate sex chromosomes. According to Provine (2000) women laugh 126% more than men during conversations with each other. In this particular case, cultural factors such as contemporary gender imbalances in social status are probably more important thangenetic differences (it has been observed that persons in higher positions of authority seem to laugh less than those in lower positions). Also, the bipolar disorder patients (previously known as manic- depressives) clearly have a greater propensity to initiate and enjoy humor during manic episodes (although this too awaits systematic study). Candidate susceptibility genes are being actively investigated for all major psychiatric conditions, however, as of yet, no conclusive chromosomal regions have yet been associated with bipolar disorder.
Laughter indicates what types of mental representations children, autistic people, nonhuman primates and adults possess and can falsify. Because the consequences of brain damage can help connect brain anatomy to function, any deficit in humor perception associated with specific neuropathology has the potential to be illuminating. It is well known that brain damage, particularly in the frontal lobes, causes deficits of humor appreciation. The precise cerebral areas most closely associated with humor deficits will be reviewed in the next section. The neurological condition most often associated with changes in humor and laughter is epilepsy. For many years, an "epileptic personality" has been described with "humorlessness," a common associated feature (Kaplan and Saddock, 1985). Recent studies have confirmed previous clinical observations - specifically, patients with frontal lobe epilepsy demonstrate deficits in humor appreciation (Farrant et al, 2005). Gelastic seizures, also known as laughter epilepsy, are most commonly associated with hypothalamic hamartomata (benign hypothalamic malformations consisting of heterotopic nervous tissue) but can also arise from the frontal or temporal lobes (Pearce, 2004).
Here s some more that comes from the curious reaction to pain that certain brain- damaged patients exhibit. Patients with a condition called pain asymbolia feel pain but say that it doesn t hurt and they tend to giggle in response to it. The brain damage has disconnected the signal between two parts of the brain, the insular cortex that receives sensory input from the skin and the system associated with emotions that registers negative experiences (cingulated gyrus). Because of this disconnect, one part of the brain tells the person Here is something painful, a potential threat , while another part (the area concerned with emotions) says a fraction of a second later Oh don t worry; this isno threat at all and prompts an involuntary vocalization of a false alarm signal.
Among psychiatric conditions, only schizophrenia has been systematically shown to be accompanied by humor perception deficits (Corcoran, Cahill, and Frith, 1997; Polimeni and Reiss, 2006).
Autism is thought to result from a deficit in the mindreading ability, and shows a triad of symptoms: social incompetence, poor communication skills, and a lack of pretend play. Baron-Cohen has proposed 4 separate components of the mindreading system: the intentionality detector (ID) which allows interpretation of moving stimuli as possessing desires and goals; the Eye-Direction Detector (EDD) that allows the detection of presence and direction of eyes and whether they are "looking at me"; the Shared- Attention Mechanism (SAM) that allows the representation of the kind, "Mummy-sees- (I-see-the bus)" and the "theory-of-mind mechanism" (ToMM) that allows the representation of the kind, "Agent-Attitude-Proposition" mentioned above (Baron- Cohen, 1995; Leslie, 2000; Leslie and Roth, 1994).
He argues that people with autism lack the latter two mechanisms (Baron-Cohen, 1995). The Inner Eye theory requires falsification of belief representations and if people with autism do not have the ability to represent particular types of beliefs, they won t be able to laugh in situations that require falsifying them. According to a study of pre-school children with either autism or Down s syndrome, parental reports reveal no group difference in laughter at tickling, peek-a-boo, or slapstick (Reddy, Williams, and Vaughan, 2002). Autistic children, however, rarely laugh at socially inappropriate acts and laugh much more often for reasons the parents cannot understand (Reddy et al., 2002). Autistic adults also seem to appreciate jokes involving lexical or phonological ambiguities (van Bourgondien and Mesibov, 1987). Laughter can be used to reveal the kinds of representations that are available to be falsified in autistic people. In some situations, autistic people unable to predict and explain others actions in terms of psychological states, may predict and explain them as events involving moving physical objects by using the types of representations available to them.
Autism affects males at a significantly higher rate than it does females (Baron- Cohen,2000). It has been hypothesized that autism is an extremely male condition with a superior systemizing ability and an impaired empathizing ability (Baron-Cohen, 2002).
Case study: Seinfeld
On a poll made by E! Television, Seinfeld was the only comedy series that made the 90s rule. Seinfeld s humor has a sort of superficial conflict and characters with odd dispositions, but none with deep emotions. A character s death (architect and marine biologist wannabe George s fiancee, Susan) got no genuine emotion of regret from anyone in the show. So what made us laugh watching Seinfeld? The situations? The characters who were "thirty-something singles with no roots, vague identities, and conscious indifference to morals" and that made us laugh for almost ten years?
Let s take a look: Frankly, I don t believe people think of their office as a workplace anymore. They think of it as a stationery store with Danish. You want to get your pastry, your envelopes, your supplies, your toilet paper, six cups of coffee - and then you go home (Jerry Seinfeld).
A comedian once said that what makes us laugh at the end of the day is when someone suffers. Evidently, someone other than ourselves.
Moran, Wig, Adams, Janata, and Kelley (2004) monitored humor detection versus humor appreciation using Seinfeld in an event-related fMRI experiment. They found significant activations in the left posterior middle temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus, with additional activations in the bilateral anterior temporal cortex, left inferior temporal gyrus, right posterior middle temporal gyrus and right cerebellum.
However, researchers know that a number of brain structures, including the prefrontal cortex (responsible for language processing and memory), are involved in humor appreciation. Shibata advised neurosurgeons to avoid such areas of the brain during surgery. We wouldn t like a healthy humorless patient, would we? What would be the irony if the patient loses his sense of humor when he sees the bill and sues the hospital? After all, this is why the psychiatrists used to administer shock therapy to the patients: toprepare them for the bill. Get it? If you didn t, not to worry. Genders seem to respond differently when comes to appreciation of humor.
Also, some brain regions were activated more in women. These included the left prefrontal cortex, suggesting a greater emphasis on language and executive processing in women, as they used more analytical machinery when deciphering humorous material. So, in case you ever wanted to know what s the difference between a psychologist and a magician here is the answer: a psychologist pulls habits out of rats! If you laughed at this joke, you might be a man, or a psychologist. Or both.
Now, anatomically speaking, laughter is caused by the epiglottis constricting the larynx and its study is called gelotology. Consequently a person that dedicates his life to studying laughter is called a gelotologist. If one studies laughter in old people that would make one a gerontologist gelotologist. Now, let s see what we are laughing about. Contrary to popular belief, we do not laugh about humor only; we laugh at people and mainly how they relate. You don t need a killer punch line to make someone laugh. "Oh, gee, here s comes Sarah Palin" or "Wow, Minister Boc is very hard working" might as well do. A successful joke thus depends on several factors: gender, level of education, level of a healthy mind (a brain damaged person might not get it), race and age. Apart from relations we also laugh at slapsticks, common experiences and situations, families, marriages, embarrassing situations and slip-ups, work, idiots, bosses, intellectual snobs and psychologists. Oh, in passing, do you know how many psychologists it takes to change a light-bulb? Just one, but the light-bulb has to want to change.
Chich Murray, a Scottish comedian, thinks we also laugh at guns: I drew a gun. He drew a gun. I drew another gun. Soon we were surrounded by lovely drawings of guns.
Humor as mental fitness indicator
Like most evolutionary psychology hypotheses, here is a very seducing theory. According to the theory of mental fitness indicators (Miller, 2007) some human capacities such as language, creativity, art, music, altruism, and humor evolved throughmutual mate choice for good genes and good parent traits. Consequently, a good sense of humor is sexually attractive because it is a hard-to-fake signal of intelligence, creativity, mental health, and other traits desired by both sexes, consciously or not.
Also, sex differences in reproductive strategies may explain why females value humor production ability more in mates why females laugh and smile more during conversations, especially in response to humor produced by the opposite sex and why women tend to like a man who will make them laugh, while men want a woman who will laugh at their humor (Bressler, 2006).
General intelligence is one of the most sexually desirable traits for both sexes (Buss, 1989) is highly heritable and is correlated with many fitness-related traits such as physical health and longevity body symmetry, physical attractiveness and semen quality.
If humor production ability is an honest indicator of intelligence, humor production ability should positively correlate with intelligence. There is some evidence that a good sense of humor is associated with verbal creativity and intelligence.
A recent study confirmed the three predictions derived from Miller s sexual selection model of humor: intelligence predicts humor ability, humor ability predicts mating success, and males show higher average humor ability. The authors conclude that humor is not just a reliable intelligence-indicator; it may be one of the most important traits for humans seeking mates (Smith et al 2002).
In this view, producing humor serves as a "fitness indicator" displaying the genetic quality of the individual signaling. Since males are the ones mainly competing over mates, and females are choosier in selecting them, we should expect that females will be more sensitive to the production of humor by males, and will be attracted to the ones with the best sense of humor. Females tend to laugh more when there are males in the room, while males laughter does not change much in the presence of females. Moreover, a recent study showed that even though both males and females seek partners with a sense of humor, they actually mean different things. Males want a female that will laugh at their jokes, while females look for a male that will make them laugh (Bressler,Martin, and Balshine, 2006).
Miller s notion was that the primary function of humor is to display intelligence during courtship. You make her laugh, you got her. To explain the pervasive role of humor in human social interaction and among mating partner preferences, Miller proposed that intentional humor evolved as an indicator of intelligence.
If humor is supposed to attract partners, why make fun of ourselves then?
Buss (who wisely and elegantly said that everything a man does, he does to get laid), one of the founding fathers of evolutionary psychology, still teaching at Texas University, developed a number of evolutionary hypotheses concerning sex differences in mate selection criteria in humans. Since the number of offspring a Homo sapiens female can produce is limited, evolution would favor those who are able to secure sufficient resources for upbringing her offspring.
Now, think that most humor is self deprecating. So, what is the evolutionary purpose of self deprecating humor which often arises during courtship between potential mates? Men report using more other-deprecating humor than women do, and the use of other- deprecating humor decreases with age for both sexes.
Almost all forms of humor involve ridicule of something - a person, behavior, belief, group, or possession - at some level. Self-deprecating humor often arises between potential mates during courtship, or between established mates during peace-making after relationship tensions and arguments. However, some authors believe it is a risky form of humor because it can draw attention to one s real faults, diminishing the self- deprecator s status in the eyes of others. Based on the idea that verbal humor evolved to function as a fitness indicator, however, self-deprecating humor can also reliable indicator not only of general intelligence and verbal creativity, but also of moral virtues such as humility (Miller, 2007).
Case study on Romanian respondents
To cross culturally put to test Buss and Miller s theory of humor as mate choice criteria we applied a simple questionnaire, composed of eighteen attributes considered attractivein males (such as steady job, financial independence, sense of humor, own flat, respect, passion, good communicator, strength, protector, sincerity, sensibility, family values, loyalty, intelligence, manners and hygiene, assertiveness, emotional independence, optimism) proposed randomly as order to see if humor ranks among the first choices in women.
There were 30 female subjects, ages between 23-70, with various marital statuses such as married, single, divorced and widows, all heterosexual. The subjects were highly educated college and above, with average and above incomes compared to the standard Romanian income. The questionnaire was applied via email, personally, and on a Facebook poll and was responded anonymous so the answers are inclined to be more accurate. I attributed a number of points per each quality as such, 1-18 number of criteria and noticed were the respondents ranked each attribute. I made the sum and calculated the median resulting in a score of points for each attribute. The higher the score the lower the rank.
As expected, the sense of humor did not prime among the first three qualities chosen by the Romanian women sample. Respect ranked the first, followed by intelligence and honesty, loyalty, and manners/hygiene. The sense of humor was appreciated on rank 6 (out of 18) followed, in this order, by: good communicator, family values, financial independence, protector, optimism, passion, sensibility, emotional independence, strength, assertiveness, steady job, own flat.
A rough interpretation of the results could be that married respondents opted more towards family values as they are more inclined to protect and value family after a certain age, due to the sparcity of ovules. Women above 35 ovulate less frequent and their fertility decreases. On the other hand, they already have partners and tend to keep the family unit intact by down playing what they actually desire in a mate, opting for already present attributes via self- confirmating bias to reduce the stress of wanting an attribute that does not exist in their mate.
Young respondents (23 year old) were more inclined to go for optimism and passion. Another speculation could be that some of the answers given by married women were, in fact, attributes desired in their current partners, e.g. manners and hygiene and could have been favored in partners that were already lacking this aspect. While single women were more inclined to hypothetically imagine attributes in a potential mate, women already in a relationship could have indicated attributes missing in existing mates.
A more rigorous study should be done on a larger sample, as N=30 is the minimum accepted sample for studies of this type. It is obvious that the attributes are self-included and if restricted they reach to Big Five: openness (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious, consciousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless), extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved), agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind), neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). It is also highly probable that women that opted for protection also extend and included strength such as good communicator included assertiveness. Similarly, women who went for intelligence they included humor.
Discussion: There is however an observation I would like to make with regards to the universality of humor as mental fitness indicator in female choice. It cannot be explained evolutionary as it is not fairly met in the entire species, so humans are not reasonably and uniformly good at it although humans equally laugh, they laugh at different triggers/circumstances/situations. While it also correlates with a general good intelligence, it even makes more sense, as we are not universally intelligent, otherwise we would not appreciate an intelligent person when we meet one. Intelligence is a rare trait, so is humor. I would rather consider religion more than humor as being evolutionary adaptive, as there are more religious people then they are intelligent or funny. And that is a census fact. It is rather obvious that humor correlates with general intelligence, and one has to be smart to get or produce humor. There are rare cases of people with challenged intelligence who get to be funny (e.g. Becali) as the proverb says, don t laugh at stupid, they will imagine they have humor.
Most studies were done in Northern America with college students and then the results extended to an entire race as being universal. A simple query done on Romanian subjects proved differently. Most subjects were college educated, middle class and white females. No study had been conducted (as far as I could research, but I can be wrong) in Albania, Afghanistan, KSA, Ivory Coast, Kuwait or Zimbabwe to check if in these countries females also pick humor among the first qualities they find desirable in a mate.
Even less than imagination, which in my opinion is reasonably found in most humans, even the less educated ones (with a low general intelligence) fancy a daydream (what is day dream if not imagination at work?) about richer crops, thy impetuous neighbor s wife etc.
While imagination is universally spread and is observable at a very young age and proved its evolutionary role, humor in spite of the above presented theories did not. As part of sexual selection, people also compete within each sex, and evolutionary theories of humor could benefit by trying to explore the role of humor in this competition. For example, how does the use of humor help gain and maintain status?
Although considered to be a mental fitness indicator, the author s brief but eloquent survey supported the hypotheses that humor desirability is required in times of economic growth and/or stability and is less sought after in poor countries or in times of economic recession.Another Eastern-European study, made in Serbia, supports the same theory. Women are indeed more concerned with prospective mate s potential control over social and economic resources and with (his) readiness to share them, while men pay relatively more attention to physical attractiveness. In recent decades, with increased social and economic sexes have become more alike in their mate preferences, although the convergence seems to be mostly due to men approaching women s standards (Buss et al., 2001).
Therefore, part of the female reproductive strategy is to secure mates that are able and willing to provide necessary resources. A completion to Miller s theory would be thatdesirability traits of a potential mate vary with age, economic status, education, cultural environment and gender.
While I admit the importance of humor in playing down harmful situations, I find it hard to push the hypothesis that humor is essential for survival. I would therefore rather consider humor like religion, a byproduct of evolution - an exaptation.
Since the number of offspring a Homo sapiens female can produce is limited, evolution would favor those who are able to secure sufficient resources for upbringing her offspring. Therefore, part of the female reproductive strategy is to secure mates that are able and willing to provide necessary resources. Since female reproductive value is closely related to age and health, these should be among the most important criteria males should take into account. Humor does not necessary secure vital resources, even if increases the quality of life. Therefore, female mate choice criteria should include signs indicating control or potential control over necessary resources, and related personality traits - ambition, dominance, diligence (Buss 1987).
Another major problem: studies of humor are overwhelmingly conducted in the laboratory, and laboratory studies notably do not reflect the natural occurrences of humor and laughter. Since most laughter transpires during natural conversations, laboratory studies readily miss the essence of humor.
In pre-recession Romania, women could have opted for humor as the most wanted attribute in a man. However, in a very difficult economic year of 2012, the survey proved that humor is a fitness factor but it is cross culturally, age and economically conditioned, when presented with other options such as steady job, a living place, emotional security etc.
If we do some simple calculations we can easily notice that extending the humor as mental fitness to the entire globe populace based on a few studies in the American Colleges is a bit far-fetched. Now, mankind in its overwhelming majority is poor, meaning that women in these poor countries will look in a mate for something else then humor. There are 198 countries in the world, and 2.6 billion people, or 40% of the world s population, live on less than $2 a day, with 1 billion of them surviving on the margins of subsistence with less than $1 a day. Half of the world s countries are affected by landmines and unexploded ordinance, with rough estimates of 15,000 to 20,000 mine victims each year. What is my point? Based on the female selection theory, only those traits appreciated by women in men would get to last and flourish. If humor was a mental fitness trait, it would have been generally appreciated in times of richness and poverty, quasiuniversal by women all over the world. While imagination was selected as being such a trait, as an imaginative hunter can provide better, or duck a peril, a humorous one does not, unless you murder your predator with a killer punch-line, so it is not necessarily useful for survival or reproduction to be funny.
Therefore, I might unfunny conclude, further cross-cultural research is required to be able to claim that humor is a mental fitness indicator for the entire species, in various economic and cultural circumstances.