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Gender differences in humor-related traits, humor appreciation, production, comprehension, (neural) responses, use, and correlates: A systematic review

Abstract

All available peer-reviewed literature on humor and gender differences (1977–2018) was screened and evaluated according to a priori defined QUALSYST criteria. The 77 papers surpassing a conservative quality criterion generated seven emergent themes around humor and gender differences. In short, men score higher in the aggressive humor style (M > F), while no other gender differences were consistently reported in humor-related traits (M = F). In the prediction of negative outcomes (stress, loneliness, depression), differential effects for humor in both genders are reported, but not consistently (M ≠ F). Gender differences exist for the appreciation of sexual humor (M > F), even in mixed target stimuli, and hostile humor (both genders appreciate opposite gender target stimuli more). Gender differences are absent in nonsense and neutral humor (M = F). For humor production, three samples showed no gender differences (M = F), while three samples suggested men are funnier (M > F) and one that women are funnier (M < F). No studies reporting differences in humor comprehension were identified (M = F). For humor use and communication, gender differences were found across methods (M ≠ F), yet, they depend on the context (e.g., workplace) and may thus resemble gender roles rather than “natural differences”. Moreover, few studies provide hard data on actual humor use and communication in different domains. When exposed to humor stimuli, different neural responses of men and women in prefrontal cortex activations (or selected parts) were found (M ≠ F). Also, self-report data suggest that both genders value a sense of humor in their partner (M = F), yet women typically value the humor production abilities more than humor receptivity, while for men, the woman’s receptivity of their own humor is more important than a woman’s humor production abilities, in line with gender stereotypes (M ≠ F). To conclude, much progress has been achieved in the past 15 years to overcome methodological flaws in early works on humor and gender differences. Importantly, attention should be paid to disentangling actual gender differences from gender role expectations and gender stereotypes. Methodologically, designs need to be checked for potential bias (i.e. self-reports may accentuate roles and stereotypes) and more hard data is needed to substantiate claims from self-report studies.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Hofmann.

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Hofmann, J., Platt, T., Lau, C. et al. Gender differences in humor-related traits, humor appreciation, production, comprehension, (neural) responses, use, and correlates: A systematic review. Curr Psychol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-00724-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-00724-1

Keywords

  • Gender differences
  • Humor
  • Sex
  • Gender roles
  • Individual differences