Funny take on unisex toilet sign: image via wompels.comWho's funnier? Men or women? Most men and women think men are generally funnier. But a postdoc researcher at University of California San Diego (UCSD), Laura Mickes, and her colleagues decided to test that assumption by presenting author-unidentified cartoon captions to male and female 'judges.'
The public is largely biased toward males in the who's funnier gender debate, and rationales have ranged from the male role in biological attraction, likening male humor to a peacock's tail, to the male's willingness to be more risque with sexual language and innuendo.
In the first of two experiments, the research team selected 16 male and 16 female undergraduates to write funny captions for 20 New Yorker cartoons. Then a group of 34 male and 47 female undergraduates rated the cartoon captions in a five-round knockout tournament where two captions per cartoon were rated at each go-around until all the captions for each cartoon were rated. The number of points scored by each caption reflected its survival rate through five knockout rounds.
But men and women caption writers scored about equal, with men achieving a mere 0.11 points higher than the women writers.
In the second experiment, the researchers tested the judges' memories to see if they remembered the Winning caption: "Men just don't evolve.": © Mick Stevens/The New Yorker Collection/www.cartoonbank.commale captions more often than the female ones. Though the judges remembered the funny captions better than those that were not funny, as expected, they tended to attribute funny captions more to men than to women when they could not remember the gender of the actual author. They also attributed the 'unfunny' captions to women more than men, when they could not remember precisely who wrote them. Men and women raters shared these biases.
Women may get the bum rap when it comes to stereotypes of who is funny, but the New Yorker holds these captioning contests every week, and its cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, points out that men are far more persistent in entering than women and when they win it's usually after many entries, whereas women enter less frequently and are less persistent submitters. But women do tend to win earlier in their stream of entries. Mankoff writes: "The 22 winning men entered an average of 70.22 contests, but the 10 women
averaged 6.4 entries – and four of them won on their first attempt."