That's What She Said! Perceived Mate Value of Clean and Dirty Humor Displays

Mary Medlin, University of Southern Mississippi


Humor is considered a valuable trait when evaluating potential mates, and women demonstrate a preference for men's ability to produce humor. Humor displays as a male mating strategy appear context-dependent, which suggests that women's preferences for certain humor may be contingent on their mating goals. One dimension of humor variability that could approximate men's long- (LTM) or short-term (STM) mating goals is communication of humor that is categorically clean or dirty, respectively, which could influence the humorists' desirability to women. Such displays may differentially signal sexual receptivity. Two studies tasked women with indicating interest in men who generated either clean or dirty humor. Across both studies clean humor producers were preferred when evaluating both the long- and short-term desirability of men, although this preference was larger for LTM evaluations. Study 2 also demonstrated that sociosexually unrestricted women (i.e., those with more permissive sexual attitudes) self-reported greater behavioral attraction toward dirty humorists, a preference mediated by their perceptions of dirty jokes as funnier. Dirty humor production in men and appreciation in women may facilitate respective STM goals. Results of this research provide further evidence that the specific mating context determines the appropriateness of humor use when used as a relational display.