Aggression 'makes men more humorous than women'

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The Independent Online

A unicycling doctor who says men are funnier than women believes he has discovered the reason why.

Humour is a form of sublimated aggression and it is fuelled by the male hormone testosterone, according to Sam Shuster, a former consultant dermatologist from Newcastle upon Tyne.

Professor Shuster based his conclusion on the reactions he provoked while pedalling round his home town. He realised that the huge number of stereoptypical and predictable responses he got revealed an underlying biological phenomenon.

Nine out of 10 people responded by gawping or waving at him, and half responded verbally more often men than women. But there was a big difference between men and women in the nature of their responses. Men made more gags than women, and their jokes tended to be more aggressive.

Typical of the remarks was "Lost your wheel?", "Hey, do you know you have only got one wheel?" and "Couldn't you afford the other wheel?" Women tended to make encouraging, praising comments, in contrast to the men, who jeered.

Two-thirds of the comic responses from the men referred to the number of wheels and the level of aggressiveness was highest in younger age groups.

While young boys under 10 reacted with curiosity, teenagers would shout at him and try to get him to fall off. Older teenagers reacted with disparaging jokes, and young men in cars, at the peak of their virility, were particularly aggressive.

This evolved into what Professor Shuster describes as adult male humour "repetitive, humorous, verbal put-downs, concealing a latent aggression". But the jokes diminished with age, with waning testosterone levels, as older men responded more neutrally.

Women were much more likely to praise his skill and show concern for his safety. The female response was subdued during puberty and the late teens, and then evolved into the more laudatory and concerned adult female response.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor Shuster said: "The initial aggressive intent channelled the verbal response into a contrived but more subtle and sophisticated joke, in which aggression is concealed by wit. This shows how the aggression that leads to humour eventually becomes separated from it as wit, jokes and other comic forms which then take on a life of their own."