“Smart, funny, and attractive” are the standard trio of personal ads. Having a good sense of humor is considered an admirable trait in human society. But why is this trait so important to us? It does not appear to have any real advantage, other than making someone “likeable,” so why would it ever evolve? The most likely explanation is that humor was sexually selected for because it is an indicator of a creative and agile mind able to solve problems and to provide for a mate.
Humor is a form of creativity, because it requires a novel interpretation of information. Creativity can be considered the ability to rearrange preexisting pieces of information to create a novel idea (1). Creativity most likely evolved during a very short period of time known as the “creative explosion” of the Upper Paleolithic period due to the merging of several cognitive abilities. Before this creative explosion, the stone tools used by Early Humans show very little change. Then suddenly, many different types of tools developed, along with art and other aspects of culture. This creative explosion most likely coincides with the development of modern language abilities (2). Steven J. Mithen explains that language is necessary to express creative thoughts, because our minds are not meant to deal with unreality; creative ideas that break the laws of reality must be expressed and communicated in order to be understood. One of the major differences between animal communication and human language is that language allows people to talk about what does not exist or is not present (3). Humans can speculate, lie, and tell fantastical stories using creative language. And they can also tell jokes. But why do we tell jokes? Did an Early Human with a witty sense of humor have an evolutionary advantage over a straight-man? This may not seem likely, but a creative mind would have offered a survival advantage.