New research reveals that humor in a romantic partner is highly valued because it is perceived as an indicator of creative problem-solving skills. This perception holds true across various types of relationships and is consistent among both men and women, making individuals with a good sense of humor more appealing as potential partners. These findings appear in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
In the world of dating and relationships, a good sense of humor is highly valued and often sought after. Whether it’s through online dating profiles or personal preferences, people consistently rank a good sense of humor as one of the most desirable traits in a romantic partner. It’s a universal preference that transcends cultures and regions.
So, what makes humor so appealing? The answer to this question has puzzled researchers for some time. While humor is undeniably attractive, the reasons behind this attraction remain complex and multifaceted. Some theories suggest that humor serves as a marker for other positive traits, such as creativity, intelligence, warmth, and social skills. Others propose that we’re drawn to funny partners because they make us feel good and help us cope with stress.
“I became interested in humor because it is such an everyday phenomenon that plays a strong role in relationships,” said study author Erika Langley, a PhD candidate in social psychology at Arizona State University. “When I first started looking into humor and attraction it seemed like there were many competing (sometimes conflicting) explanations for why humor is so highly valued in a partner. I wanted to establish a line of research that compared these many possible explanations to see how the data would shake out.”
To better understand the role of humor in romantic attraction, Langley and her co-author — associate professor Michelle Shiota — conducted a series of six studies. These studies aimed to investigate whether humor could serve as an indicator of specific desirable traits in a potential partner, including creative thinking, intelligence, sociality, and worldview alignment.
The first study involved 258 participants recruited from the United States through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Participants were asked to read a hypothetical first-date scenario, either containing shared humor or a non-humor control scenario. Afterward, they rated their enjoyment of the hypothetical date and made trait inferences about the imagined dating partner.
The results of Study 1 revealed a significant effect of humor on the inference of creative ingenuity. Participants who read the scenario with humor rated their imagined partner as more creative than those who read the non-humor scenario. Importantly, this effect was not influenced by the gender of the participants, suggesting that both men and women infer creativity in a funny dating partner.
It’s worth noting that participants rated both scenarios as equally enjoyable, ruling out the possibility that the effect was simply due to differences in pleasantness.
Building upon the findings of Study 1, Study 2 explored whether the direction of humor delivery—whether the participant or the partner made the other laugh—influenced trait inferences. Participants were randomly assigned to roles as humor producers (“Jokers”), humor appreciators (“Laughers”), or to the pleasant control group.
The results of Study 2, which included 288 participants, replicated the previous findings. Humor had an impact on inferences of creative ingenuity, but only when the date was described as making the participant laugh. This effect was consistent for both men and women and was not influenced by the participant’s gender.
“Directionality of humor is important; inferred creative ingenuity was consistently higher only for imagined date partners who produced humor. None of these effects were moderated by gender,” Langley told PsyPost.
Study 3, which included 329 participants aimed to examine whether humor’s influence on trait inferences varied in different types of relationships, such as short-term flings, long-term relationships, or potential spouses. It replicated the previous findings and also revealed that humor’s effect on creative ingenuity did not differ between imagining a date as a potential short-term or long-term partner.
However, the effect was found to be mediated by inferences of creative ingenuity, suggesting that a funny date partner is seen as skilled at creative problem-solving, which is particularly valuable in longer-term relationships.
Building on these findings, Study 4 investigated whether the influence of humor on trait inferences extended to established long-term relationships in a sample of 270 participants. The results of this study confirmed the effect of humor on creative ingenuity in both first-date and long-term relationship scenarios. Again, this suggests that humor serves as an indicator of creative problem-solving skills.
Study 5 took a different approach by examining how humor in online dating profiles influences trait inferences and preferences for first-date activities. In this study, 145 participants assessed online dating profiles that either included humor or were control profiles without humor. The study revealed that profiles with humor not only led to higher inferences of creativity but also increased the preference for first-date activities that benefited from creative problem-solving.
In the final study, 342 participants viewed video dating profiles where potential partners answered questions in a humorous or non-humorous manner. The study replicated the previous findings of humor’s influence on creative ingenuity. Additionally, it revealed that funny targets were rated as more socially competent, suggesting that humor may be a strategy used to communicate the desire to initiate a romantic relationship.
In summary, the six studies collectively indicate that humor plays a significant role in romantic attraction. Humor is perceived as an indicator of creative problem-solving skills, making individuals with a good sense of humor more appealing as potential partners. This effect holds true across different types of relationships, from first dates to long-term commitments, and it is not dependent on the gender of the individuals involved.
“Across all studies, funny dating partners were assumed to be more creative (in the sense of creative ingenuity) than non-funny, yet equally pleasant control partners,” Langley told PsyPost. “While there exist social norms around who is expected to be funny or who is stereotyped as funnier, when actually perceiving a funny date men and women show equal trait inferences.”
While these studies shed light on the relationship between humor and romantic attraction, they are not without limitations. One key limitation is the reliance on hypothetical scenarios and online dating profiles. Future research could explore these dynamics in real-world dating contexts to provide a more comprehensive understanding.
“These are hypothetical scenarios, simulated dating profiles, and video profiles,” Langley said. “In future work I will examine these effects in real life interactions (current relationships and in person interactions), real dating profiles, and perhaps speed dating paradigms. I look forward to extending this work into cross-cultural contexts and am highly motivated to examine these effects in LGBTQIA+ samples.”
The study, “Funny Date, Creative Mate? Unpacking the Effect of Humor on Romantic Attraction“, was authored by Erika B. Langley and Michelle N. Shiota.