New research should either put to rest further debate between men and women about who is actually funnier — or ratchet up the tension to a whole new level of domestic discomfort.
Especially since it appears that science has picked a side in the debate: Men, at least by a hair, are capable of "higher human production than women."
That's according to a new study by Gil Greengross from Aberystwyth University in Wales and Emily Nusbaum from the University of North Carolina that was published in the Journal of Research in Personality.
Here's how Greengross, an evolutionary psychologist who has long studied humor and laughter, puts it in Psychology Today:
Humor is a complex phenomenon that involves social, emotional, physiological, cognitive, cultural and evolutionary influences, to name a few. One important aspect is the ability to make others laugh. Humor production ability is a distinct cognitive ability that is largely uncorrelated with appreciation and enjoyment of humor. When looking at who is the funnier sex, we focus then on humor production ability.
A tricky thing, quantifying humor
So how do you measure "funny" — especially since humor is such a subtle and multifaceted quality. For their research, Greengross and Nusbaum reviewed previous studies that evaluated objective "humor ability," while ignoring studies where participants were asked to rate their own sense of humor.
That's a sensible omission considering how many of us overrate our ability to make others laugh. Another important omission? They didn't include any studies where the tester knew the sex of the participant, which could influence their perception of that participant's humor ability.
Essentially, the team only reviewed studies where humor was gender-blind and rated by people who weren't actually telling the jokes.
In all, the researchers combed over 28 studies with 36 independent samples — spanning more than 5,000 participants.
And from those studies they came up with a rather polarizing conclusion: Men are funnier. But they may be just one bad joke away from losing that dubious crown.
As Greengross notes, "63 percent of men score above the mean humor ability of women. This is considered a small to medium difference."
But more fascinating, perhaps, than that slim margin of victory may be the reasons behind the apparent humor gap.
Looking for a smart one
"It is possible that the view that women are less funny is so pervasive that societal forces discourage girls and women from developing and expressing their humor, making a woman less likely to be perceived as funny," Greengross suggests.
But there may also be an evolutionary nudge here. When it comes to picking a mate, women have to be particularly picky. A 2006 study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics that looked at what we prize in prospective partners concluded that women put a premium on intelligence — indeed, they value it about twice as much as men do.
And one of the surest signs of intelligence? You guess it. A crackling wit.
Men who demonstrate their sense of humor also happen to be showing off their intelligence.
But as Greengross and Nusbaum are quick to point out, their results represent only the average. As we all know, "average" may get you by at the family dinner gathering. But the more side-splittingly funny end of the spectrum is anyone's game — as women like Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey and Ali Wong remind us.
"All these great comedians are funnier than 99.9 percent of all men."