©Arlene Taylor PhD

John Martellaro of the Kansas City Star reported on an informal survey among stand-up comics. There was general agreement on tendencies toward gender differences with respect to humor. (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, pages 170-175.)

Summary of Selected Humor Differences

Female Brain

Male Brain

• Enjoy jokes that involve childbirth and raising children

• Generally have a “dry” sense of humor

• Are more likely to laugh at jokes at their own expense

• Enjoy jokes about relationships and gender differences

• Prefer to experience a scenario rather than just a quick punch line

• Typically tend to be turned off by graphically dirty humor

• Like Seinfeld, Jay Leno, “Cheers,” W. C. Fields, “Family Ties,” etc.

• Are more likely to appreciate silly or slapstick humor

• Typically respond to dirtier or cruder humor (e.g., doesn’t have to be especially intelligent), and/or humor laced with profanities

• Are more likely to laugh at jokes at other people’s expense

• Tend to be less patient with longer prologues (e.g., get to the punch line)

• Tend to like anything physical and aggressive

• Like the “Three Stooges,” cartoons such as The Simpsons, John Cleese, Tim Allen’s “Home Improvement,” etc.

Summary of Selected Laughter Differences

Female Brain

Male Brain

• While the average speaker laughs 46% more than the audience, female speakers tend to laugh 127% more than their male audiences.

Conclusion: Women tend to be the laughers

• While the average speaker laughs 46% more than the audience, male speakers tend to laugh 7% less than their female audiences.

Conclusion: Males tend to be the humor producers

NOTE: Some studies have not found evidence that females laugh more than males. Bachorowsk, Jo-Anne I, PhD, and Michael J. Owren, PhD. Laughing Matters. Psychological Science Agenda, Volume 18: No. 9, September 2004. Website: http://www.apa.org/science/psa/sb-bachorowski.html

Summary of Selected Brain Differences

Many aspects of humor response have universal characteristics but some brain differences have been observed. Websites: 

Female Brain

Male Brain

fMRI Study of viewing cartoons:

• Appears to recruit specific brain regions to a greater extent than males when presented with humorous stimuli

• Activates the left prefrontal cortex more than males, suggesting a greater degree of executive processing and language-based decoding; and more robust recruitment of mesolimbic reward regions, suggesting greater reward network activity during humor response

NOTE: The funnier the cartoon, the more the reward center – the nucleus accumbens – was activated (perhaps because the females appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon, so when they got to the joke's punch line, they were more pleased about it).

fMRI Study of viewing cartoons:

• Unfunny events produced deactivation of nucleus accumbens in males (perhaps because they expected the cartoons to be funny and when they weren’t, there was a dip in activity)

NOTE: If subsequent studies show that the female dopaminergic systems of the brain are more sensitive to emotional stimuli, including negative stimuli, this may be of clinical import in explaining sex discrepancies in the frequency of mood disorders, particularly the fact that women are about twice as likely as men to experience clinical symptoms of depression.


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