The fastest way to a woman’s heart may be through her funny bone, but exactly why has eluded us. Although past research has suggested that women prefer funny men because it’s a sign of their intelligence, a recent study suggests humor more accurately predicts a man’s sociability and potential as a fun, outgoing partner than it does his wits.

Among traits that women find desirable in potential male partners, humor ranks relatively high, and in a recent series of studies published in Evolutionary Psychology, professor Jeffrey Hall attempted to uncover exactly why. To investigate this mystery of human attraction, Hall first had 35 participants study the Facebook profiles of 100 strangers and then predict users’ personalities in a survey. According to the press release, Facebook profiles which were perceived as humorous were more likely to also be perceived as extroverted and less likely to be perceived as intelligent. This finding contradicts previous theories that speculate women prefer funny mates because it is an indication of their intelligence.

In a second study, Hall had 300 students fill out a survey describing what role humor played in their romantic life. Hall then used the students’ answers and their GPA and ACT test scores to find a connection between how smart an individual was and how funny they reported themselves. Surprisingly, Hall found the two were largely unconnected and instead there was a link between reported humor and reported extroversion.

For the final study, Hall attempted to observe both men’s usage of humor and women’s appreciation of a potential partner’s humorous attempts in a real life setting. To do so, the researchers had 51 pairs of single heterosexual college students who did not know each other sit alone and talk for 10 minutes. Afterward, the students were asked to fill out a survey on their interaction. Results gave clear insight into how humor works in the initial stages of courtship and revealed that the more times a man tried to be funny and the more times a woman laughed at his jokes, the more likely she was to become romantically interested. The more times that a pair laughed together, the more likely they were to be interested in each other.

According to Hall, although his research backs the importance of humor in human courtship, it fails to give evidence linking male humor to perceived intelligence. Instead, Hall presented several theories explaining why humor is so fundamentally important for those looking for a romantic relationship. First, Hall suggests that although humor may not predict intelligence, it is a good indicator of an individual's sociability and fun personality — both equally important traits for those looking for someone to spend a lifetime with.

"Part of what it means to be social is the ability to joke along with people," Hall said in a statement. "Shared laughter might be a pathway toward developing a more long-lasting relationship."

Unlike many mammalian species, humans will often mate for life. This fact, combined with our advanced intelligence means that when dating it’s important to not only note traits that would be beneficial to pass on to potential offspring but also look for personality traits that indicate long-term compatibility. Previous studies have backed this idea and found that, along with humor, individuals also value “playfulness” in a potential partner, as it was a great indicator of friendliness, a laid-back attitude, and an overall tendency toward fun.

Humor has become an almost rehearsed aspect of female-male interactions, and both partners instinctively know their part. For men, getting a woman to laugh may help to reveal her level of interest and let him know whether it's in his best interest to proceed with his romantic advances.

"The script is powerful and it is enduring, and it dictates everything from asking someone out to picking up the tab," Hall said.

While the findings on the nature of laughter are compelling, Hall also presents a more simple explanation for why humor plays such a big role in romance: People just like to laugh and gravitate toward those who prompt them to do so.

Source: Hall JA. Sexual Selection and Humor in Courtship A Case for Warmth and Extroversion. Evolutionary Psychology. 2015.