Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has claimed that testosterone not only makes men more prone to jokes, but to particularly aggressive jokes. Often at the expense of others.
Studies in the past have suggested that men do make more jokes than women in day to day life. Many have pointed to the fact that male professional comedians still largely outnumber female ones as being revealing.
The late journalist and author Christopher Hitchens even went so far as to write an essay for Vanity Fair subtly entitled ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny’. Infuriating as this is to women, before dismissing Shuster’s opinion as sexist hokum, let’s bear in mind that this is an academic we’re talking about here. He has access to some of the most advanced research techniques and tools of the scientific trade – C.T scanner, mice maze, Rorschach ink test, Bunsen burner. So let’s hear him out, eh?
For his study Prof Schuster used a unicycle. He made numerous mono-wheeled trips through the streets Newcastle upon Tyne (a city famous in the UK for it’s no-nonsense attitudes and incomprehensible dialect) and on these journeys observed the reactions of 400 people to his eccentric hobby.
The Professor told the British Medical Journal that almost half of the onlookers felt the need to respond verbally, the majority of whom were male. While the few women who did make remarks tended to be supportive and encouraging, 75% of the responses offered by men were mocking.
Younger guys, he noted, were exceptionally aggressive, often stopping their cars to shout abuse, whereas older men – who traditionally have lower levels of testosterone – were less likely to pass judgement. This led Shuster to hypothesise a link between testosterone levels and the propensity for and style of humour.
Testosterone has been linked to aggression in numerous studies. As recently as 2013 a study in New York found evidence of a possible connection between greater exposure to testosterone in the womb and occurrences of verbal aggressiveness in later life.
If, as Shuster believes this aggression often takes the form of jokes, it would account for the why more men were compelled to taunt him.
Dr Nick Neave, a psychologist at the University of Northumbria who has been studying the physical, behavioural, and psychological effects of testosterone, feels the anti-unicycle prejudice amongst Newcastle’s men may be a response to threat. The subconscious fear that Professor Shuster may draw female attention away from them.
I think on some level we can all relate to that. Who amongst us hasn’t at one time or another worried we’ll lose a girl to some fast moving big-time Charlie with his own transport? Normally takes a few more wheels than in this case though.
Usually about three more and an engine.
I could even appreciate how a tandem bike with a vacant seat would get some people’s backs up, but worrying you’ll have your potential partner stolen by an unicyclist? Aside from anything else, where would all these seduced women sit?
It’ll probably take something a bit more structured than a few unorthodox tours of Newcastle to prove conclusively, but it is possible Shuster’s study does have a valid point.
More likely though the truth is closer to the results of a 2005 Stanford School of Medicine study which found that males and females were no more or less likely to be comedic or amused by events, simply that they responded to and expressed humour in different ways.
Put it this way, it’s probably a blessing that Professor Sam Shuster didn’t have access to the face book pages and twitter feeds of the ‘encouraging’ and ‘supportive’ women in the moments after they spotted him.