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Being funny has its benefits in the dating world

ASU researchers discover sense of humor linked to other positive personality traits

A man pulls a hat down over the eyes of his romantic partner and they laugh.
February 13, 2024

Who doesn’t love to be around someone who makes them laugh?

When it comes to qualities that people find attractive in a potential romantic partner, a sense of humor is often high up on the list. 

And it’s easy to understand why. 

Humor is a stress reliever; it creates a bonding experience. And, well, laughter just feels really good. 

Michelle Shiota
Michelle Shiota 

According to Arizona State University researchers Erika Langley and Michelle Shiota, having a sense of humor may mean much more.

Their research revealed that people in pursuit of a romantic partner attribute many other positive qualities to someone who can put a smile on their face. It seems a sense of humor is seen as part of a package that may include intelligence, creativity, problem-solving and more. 

"In this work, we propose that people are attracted to funny romantic partners because humor acts as a cue that leads people to perceive a potential partner as possessing other desirable traits. Of the candidate traits we examined, creative ingenuity — the ability to think and act in original and inventive ways to solve problems — emerged as the trait people most reliably inferred from humor,” said Shiota, an associate professor of social psychology in ASU’s Department of Psychology.

The research was drawn from six studies, with more than 1,600 participants ages 18–69, over a period of three years. 

The results were unveiled in an article titled “Funny Date, Creative Mate? Unpacking the Effect of Humor on Romantic Attraction," which was published in October 2023 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Langley, a PhD candidate in social psychology, talks about the results of her and Shiota's research with ASU News.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Woman's portrait
Erika Langley

Question: What was the purpose of your research into the link between humor and attraction in relationships? 

Answer: People want to date funny people. Extensive research has shown that a good sense of humor is a highly valued personality trait in potential romantic partners. This finding is shown across cultures, demonstrating that a preference for humor in romantic partners may have evolved in humans to serve some universal, adaptive function. 

The purpose of this research was to test whether people interpret humor as a reliable indicator of some other valuable, but harder to detect, trait in potential partners. It might be hard to tell on a first date how creative, intelligent or social someone is, but it is really easy to tell if they made you laugh!

Q: What made you decide to explore this? 

A: I was interested in exploring positive emotional experiences in couples and found that laughter and humor are all really important for initiating and maintaining romantic relationships. While dating my husband, who I met in grad school, we would constantly make each other laugh. When I dug into the research on this topic, it was clear that people are attracted to a good sense of humor — but there were many competing and sometimes conflicting explanations. 

Some claimed that humor signaled that a potential partner is intelligent and has “good genes.” Other experiments show that funny dating partners are often rated as less intelligent. Much of the preexisting work focuses on how humor is useful primarily for men to attract women and sort of fed into the stereotype that women aren’t funny. 

Since there were many competing theories and explanations, my collaborator and I set out to create experiments that carefully pit several different possible traits — creativity, intelligence, sociality and worldview alignment — that humor might signal against each other to see which ones people consistently inferred in a potential romantic partner.

Results would then serve as our “why.” Why are people attracted to humor? 

Q: What were your findings?

A: Across experiments, humor was linked to the belief that a potential dating partner is a creative thinker. Rather than creative in an artistic sense, we found that humor was linked to inferring a potential partner possessed creative ingenuity; thinks in clever ways, is a problem-solver.

This finding held in the context of hypothetical dating scenarios and simulated and video dating profiles. This link between humor and creativity also explained the desire for the funny dates to become longer-term relationship partners.

Q: Why were these discoveries important?

A: These findings give us insight into what's going on “under the hood” when it comes to mating relationship psychology. While we can ask people why they want to date funny people and get reasonable answers — “it's fun to be around them” — people are not always consciously aware of why humor is an important characteristic in romantic and long-term social relationships. These findings contribute to our understanding of why people make certain decisions in dating.

Q: Was there anything in your findings that was surprising?

A: The finding that men and women both inferred creative ingenuity in funny partners was not as surprising to us as it was to reviewers that kind of pushed back on it, assuming there would be this gendered effect when it came to humor.

The idea here is that while there might be gender differences in who might be stereotyped or societally expected to be funny in a relationship — especially early in courtship — when it comes to actually interacting with a funny dating partner, both men and women are picking up on creative problem-solving and both benefit from having a partner who can tackle a variety of life's problems.

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