New research suggests that we find a good sense of humour attractive in potential romantic partners because it signals creativity and problem-solving skills.
A series of six studies led by psychologists at an American university indicates that displaying humour during early interactions leads us to perceive the other person as more creative. This effect held across a variety of experimental scenarios, including reading fictional accounts, assessing simulated dating profiles, and watching video dating introductions. The findings were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Across cultures, a good sense of humour emerges as one of the most desirable traits in a romantic partner. But why? The researchers suggest that humour acts as a marker for valuable underlying qualities that are not directly observable when first getting to know someone. They focused on four characteristics that humour could plausibly indicate: creativity, intelligence, social skills, and similarity in worldview.
The participants, mostly young adults, took part in studies where they were asked to assess the personality traits of potential romantic partners who were either funny or pleasant but non-humorous. The funny partners were consistently rated as more creative, across all six studies. However, humour did not lead to assumptions that the person was more intelligent or socially adept.
In one study, participants read fictional first date scenarios. Some involved playful banter and laughter between the two people; others described an enjoyable interaction without humour. Participants then rated their imagined date on several traits. The partners in humorous exchanges were seen as more creative but not differing on other qualities.
The researchers also explored whether it matters who is making the jokes versus simply appreciating them. They found that it was specifically the humour producers who were perceived as more creative, not those just laughing along. And this effect emerged for both men and women assessing potential partners.
Other studies showed that someone’s creativity, as inferred from their humour, statistically accounted for participants’ greater interest in that person as a long-term romantic partner or spouse. This link did not appear when assessing them as a prospective short-term partner.
Beyond fictional scenarios, the researchers had participants evaluate simulated online dating profiles and video introductions that included funny versus straightforward responses. Again, humorous individuals were rated higher in creativity. For the videos, they were also seen as more socially skilled – possibly an effect of humour being more salient in this richer medium.
Overall, the findings indicate that humour acts as a signal of underlying creativity and problem-solving ability during initial romantic encounters. We may seek partners with a good sense of humour because their playful banter suggests they can think creatively and handle challenges that arise.