A psychology study from the University of California, San Diego Division of Social Sciences used a controlled version of the New Yorker Caption contest to assess the abilities of men and women to create humor.
Amanda Marcone from Slate comments on the significance of the study:
The study found that out of 16 men and 16 women whose caption-writing abilities were voted on in a gender-blind test, the men did slightly better, but so slightly that it’s pretty much insignificant [Males earning a 0.11 points more out of a possible 5.0 perfect score]… the most interesting findings of the study weren’t about the relative ratings of humor of men and women, but the biases of the test subjects when it came to measuring humor levels of men and women. While the subjects rated men’s and women’s caption-writing abilities roughly equally in a gender-blind test, they were so devoted to the stereotype of women being less funny that the subjects misinterpreted their own rankings.
I think that these trends indicate not that women are intrinsically less funny than men; it’s that not as many women are trying to break into comedy. Only one of the Last Comic Standing’s winners has been a women. Only one of the fourteen of Cracked Columnists is a woman. I’m looking at the line-up for The Comedy Cellar for tonight and there’s one.
But this doesn’t mean the ones that do try aren’t successful. A New Yorker blog notes, “When you look at the last thirty-two contests and factor in productivity, women come out on top. The twenty-two winning men entered an average of 70.22 contests, but the ten women averaged 6.4 entries—and four of them won on their first attempt.”
The results of the UC:SD study and the lack of number of women in comedy denotes larger cultural trends. I think that an important role in shaping these sociological trends, whether it’s that women statistically lack confidence or a notion that only pretty women should on stage, is the influence of early childhood experiences:
In one experiment, five young mothers were observed interacting with a 6 month old called Beth. They smiled at her often and offered her dolls to play with. She was seen as ‘sweet,’ having a ‘soft cry’. The reaction of a second group of mothers to a child the same age, named Adam, was noticeably different. They offered him a train or other ‘male’ toys to play with. Beth and Adam were actually the same child, dressed in different clothes.
-Experiment detailed in my sociology textbook [Anthony Giddens – 2006 – Social Science] to detail the early impression of gender roles. (via emaconly)
-file under ‘why i will not coercively gender my children and let them work it out for their own damn selves’ (via i-sauntered-vaguely-downwards)