As in hockey, it appears, so in lols: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. The 2011 Intelligence study similarly found that men wrote more captions overall, both funny and lame. In other words, men make more attempts at humor, so they are successful more of the time.
“Men are willing to take more risks [in humor], and they also fail more miserably,” Gil Greengross, an evolutionary psychologist with Aberystwyth University in Wales and author of the 2011 study. But for the man, “it's worth it. If you fail and you're not funny, you lost maybe a few minutes. But if the person laughs, the benefit can be huge.”
Men make so many joke-attempts, in fact, they are assumed to be funnier—even when they’re not. After they had finished captioning, the students in Mickes’s study filled out a questionnaire about how funny they thought others would find their captions, and also whether they thought men or women were the funnier sex in general. Male participants said that, on a scale from one to five, their cartoons were an average of 2.3 in funniness. The women gave themselves a 1.5. Even worse, 89 percent of the women and 94 percent of men responded that men, in general, are funnier.
In a follow-up experiment, Mickes asked a new set of participants to read the captions generated by the first group and guess the gender of the writer. Both men and women misattributed the funnier captions to male writers.
“Spontaneously, men somehow try harder,” she mused. “And maybe over time they're encouraged more to be funny.”
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But why do men try so hard to make people laugh?
To get some, mostly. Not everyone endorses evolutionary psychology, but those who do would say that women tend to be more selective in choosing their mates than men are because historically, motherhood has been a life-threatening, all-consuming endeavor. If a cavewoman picked the wrong caveman, she might risk a grueling childbirth only to end up raising an illness-addled child without the help of a skillful mate. Thus, choosiness becomes paramount. It behooves women to find a partner who will bestow sufficient time, resources, and good genes on their children—in other words, a smart man.
Funny people are more likely to be smart. (In one of the many New Yorker studies, the students who scored higher on intelligence tests also generated the funniest captions.) Humor “signals a kind of ability to put yourself in someone else's mind and understand what someone else will find funny,” David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist, explained. “It requires social intelligence, and it takes social verve or confidence.”
Since most people don’t go to bars with their completed Sudoku puzzles pinned to their chests, we rely on humor as a proxy for intelligence. On average, women tend to use their laughter to lure in potential mates, while men use their jokes to attract as many women as they can.