Question: Do men and women have a different sense of humor?
Robert Mankoff: Well, there’s some many men and so many women that you can’t generalize about everybody, but to generalize about a lot of people is there does seem to be you know somewhat what a distinction in that the since the roots of humor tend to be somewhat in aggression and fear and in dominance and stuff that men – what it turns is out is that men and women use humor differently. Men use humor often as a way to enhance their self presentation in a social situation – sort of look at me; also to show that they’re the dominant one in this situation. Women seem to use humor much more as a bonding mechanism, an affiliate of mechanism, and that’s the difference between joke humor and sort of conversational humor. It’s clear one of the real differences in our culture would be certainly among adolescent males. You see there’s a lot of insult humor among friends. You rarely see women do this. It’s not like they can’t be mean or anything, but they rarely insult each other as a form of joking.
Women’s humor is much more what’s called affiliative which is I want to make you feel good. I want to reveal something about myself. Here’s like a actual snippet of conversation because they have these conversational databases of humor. It’s two women at swimming pool, and one is saying to the other you know what is this good for your arms, and she goes that like that. In just in doing that, you know they’re fooling around a little bit, and the other woman says you know oh, I think it’s your thighs, and then the first woman said oh my thighs are out of control that’s helpless. And then the other woman says yeah I gained five pounds since I started swimming myself. Now they’re laughing they’re doing it. in other words they’re in this sort of playful mode and everything. You rarely find men through humor revealing something about themselves. Women often use the ambiguity of humor to probe and to find out about the other person, and they tend to like The Three Stooges a lot less than men.
Recorded on: September 21, 2009