Gender Differences in the use of Humor

According to Robert Benchley, “defining and analyzing humor is a pastime of humorless people.” Regardless of his words, attempts are continually made to define humor. Along with the obvious physical differences, it has been shown that males and females are different in their preferences when it comes to humor. This gender difference is apparent in multiple studies that have been done in the past. These studies have shown that men tend to prefer more aggressive humor, as well as more sexual and obscene humor. Other studies disagree with these results and have found a sex difference only when sexual and aggressive elements of humor are combined and directed against women. The results are less differentiated when it comes to nontendentious (a term coined by Sigmund Freud) humor such as silliness or nonsensical humor. A good example is Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This classic comedy will generally appeal to most males and females equally. While men and women have similar preferences in nontendentious humor, there is undeniably the existence of a disparity in sexual and aggressive humor.

Another of the more prevalent gender differences that has been shown in numerous studies is the tendency of men to prefer wit or joke-telling about more ridiculous or risky subjects. Women conversely show a preference to more anecdotal humor, or sharing the humor of everyday life. For example, a man is more likely to enjoy the joke “Two peanuts were walking down the street and one was assaulted.” Women on the other hand, would more enjoy hearing about a funny incident that happened to a common friend.

There is an unquestionable gender difference when it comes to coping humor. One is far more likely to find a man joking about death than a woman. This is possibly due to the male tendency to use distracting techniques to cope with emotional distress while women ruminate. Coping humor is used differently between males and females in that men tend to make light of stressful situations while women reflect on better times humorously. Males use sarcasm and jest to convey an “it’s not that bad” attitude. Men also tend to make jokes at the expense of others more often than women do.

An additional major distinction between the genders is the use of self-actualization humor. Males are far more likely to make self-actualizing remarks in mixed groups while females are more likely to do so in same-sex groups. This may be because males want to offset accusations of being cocky or arrogant in mixed groups, while women view self-actualizing humor as an intimate interaction.

By learning about the tendencies towards humor each gender has, we are able to better understand the mysteries behind what makes the other gender tick, and hopefully avoid some embarrassing situations involving foots being placed in mouths.