BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 23:36 GMT
Science is a bag of laughs
I say, I say, I say...
It may not win Richard Wiseman a Nobel Prize but he must have had a good laugh doing his research.

Top-rated gag in France
Q - You're a high-priced lawyer! If I give you $500, will you answer two questions for me?
A - Absolutely! What's the second question?
The UK psychologist has just revealed the first results from his Laugh Lab, set up to find out what sort of gags makes us all chortle.

The internet experiment has reviewed 10,000 jokes with the help of 100,000 surfers from more than 70 countries. One of the findings - perhaps elucidating the obvious - shows major differences in the giggle factor of women versus men.

Males preferred jokes that involved aggression, putting women down and sexual innuendo; women preferred jokes that played on words.

For example, this type of joke was rated highly by women:

  • A man had a dog called Minton. One day Minton ate two shuttlecocks. When the owner found out, he said: "bad Minton".
And this sort of joke was rated highly by men:
  • A guy walked in to a psychiatrist's office wearing only cling-film underpants. The psychiatrist said: "Well, I can clearly see you're nuts."
"These findings reflect fundamental differences in the ways in which males and females use humour," said Dr Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire.

Chicken, PA
Not that old gag!
"Males use humour to appear superior to others, whilst women are more linguistically skilled and prefer word-puns."

Not so clever

The mass particpation experiment is being conducted at People have been able to submit their favourite joke and vote on others using a laughometer.

The top joke - 47% of people gave it the highest rating - was this one:

    Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. Some time in the middle of the night, Holmes wakes Watson up. "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce."

    Watson says: "I see millions of stars and even if a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like Earth; and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."

    Holmes replies: "Watson, you idiot, somebody stole our tent!"

Dr Wiseman said a preliminary analysis of the data from different nations suggested the UK still retained its liking for sexual innuendo, often refered to as "Carry On" style humour after the popular film series of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The most popular joke among Britons was:
  • A man goes to the doctor and says: "Doctor, there's a piece of lettuce sticking out of my bottom." The doctor asks him to drop his trousers and examines him. The man asks: "Is it serious, doctor?" and the doctor replies: "I'm sorry to tell you but this is just the tip of the iceberg."
Countries were ranked on how funny they found the selection of 10,000 jokes. Germany was most amused; Canada kept the straightest faces.

"This is an intriguing finding," remarked Dr Wiseman, "and we will be carrying out more research to discover exactly what is going on here."

Top-rated gag in Canada
Q - What do you call a woman who can balance 4 pints of beer on her head?
A - Beatrix
Dr Wiseman launched his Laugh Lab at this year's British Association Festival of Science held in Glasgow. He intends to do MRI scans on people as they are told jokes to investigate the laughter regions in the brain.

"While we already have some interesting findings, the data collection period will continue till March 2002 when we move to the second phase of the experiment.

"In the meantime we challenge people to submit a funnier joke than the top-rated one so far."

Laughlab's Dr Richard Wiseman
"We still need people to submit their jokes"

British Association Festival of Science in Glasgow
Direct from Glasgow

It's a cracker!
What's your favourite cracker joke?
See also:

05 Sep 01 | Glasgow 2001
Search for world's funniest joke
07 Sep 01 | Talking Point
Vote for the funniest joke
29 Mar 01 | UK
Palace ghost laid to rest
10 Sep 00 | Festival of science
Memory machine probes gender differences
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories