University of Rochester

Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Is marriage a laughing matter?

Psychologist seeks couples for humor study
Harry Reis

Harry Reis is conducting an online survey of couples to explore how much humor matters in relationships. Couples can take the survey at

By Susan Hagen

Psychology Professor Harry Reis wants to unravel one of the great mysteries of mirth: Are couples who laugh at the same jokes happier with each other? Using an online survey, Reis and his graduate students will explore how much humor compatibility matters in relationships.

Itís a question that has nagged many a longtime couple: If one partner doubles over in hysterics at slapstick, while the other only grimaces, is the relationship doomed, or should they just change the channel?

Although most studies of mate preferences indicate that people think a sense of humor is vitally important, little research on the actual role of humor in relationships has been conducted. The problem, says Reis, is that it is very hard to get an objective account of someoneís sense of humor.

To address this research gap, Reis has designed a survey with 20 carefully selected, nonoffensive jokes. Couples are asked to rate how amusing they find each joke, and to answer several questions about their relationship. Open to all couples (must be 18 years or older), the survey is anonymous; however, if participants wish and provide an e-mail address, they will receive feedback on whether they share a similar sense of humor with their partner.

The survey, guaranteed to elicit chuckles, takes less than 20 minutes to complete and can be found at

A recognized expert in the field, Reis has studied the factors that contribute to closeness in relationships for 30 years. In the field of psychology, most relationship studies focus on interventions that help couples cope with problems. Reisís research, however, shows that successful relationships are built on more than simply not having problems. Positive interactions, like believing that one is valued by oneís partner, are key to good relationships.

Previous story     Next story