Over 80 per cent of Canadians screen potential online partners for their sense of humour, according to a UBC sociology study led by masters student Siqi Xiao under the supervision of professor Yue Qian.
While this seems like an innocent statistic, Canadians’ prioritization of humour can reinforce major social boundaries, and in turn isolate immigrant communities and perpetuate xenophobia.
“We have to recall that humour is a cultural thing. It requires lots of cultural learning,” explained Xiao in an interview with The Ubyssey. Thus, by screening for humour, Canadians are actually weeding out those who may not have had the upbringing or linguistic background to understand it. Intentional or not, favouring humour can be exclusive to immigrants.
Xiao examined this phenomenon through interviewing Vancouver-based online daters — specifically, Chinese immigrants, Canadian-born Chinese folks and non-Chinese Canadians. Participants were asked questions regarding their motivations, experiences and strategies for online dating as well as what they were seeking in a potential partner. They were also asked about their interactions both in online dating platforms and during in-person dates.
Most of the Canadian-born respondents stated that they could quickly decide whether or not to pass on a person based off of the apparent humour of the candidate. In contrast, less than 20 per cent of Chinese immigrants said that humour was an important factor.
The issue also extends beyond the dating scene. Something so simple as a lack of familiarity with local humour can impact immigrants in the job market and in making new friends.
However, just because you’re an immigrant does not mean you cannot learn to understand the local humour if you are seeking a Canadian-born partner. Xiao advises newcomers who are looking to open their dating options “to read, watch local TV and movies … and just to communicate with more local-borns to see how they cultivate a sense of humour.”
The same goes for Canadians who are looking to be more open-minded and overcome the conscious and subconscious biases that arise when we hold people to certain standards for humour.
“I would actually advise everyone, not only immigrants but all Canadians to be more open-minded about what is humorous and what kind of cultural things are interesting to the other group,” said Xiao.
Instead of completely writing off people who might not be quick to get the joke, Xiao recommends people challenge what it means when they say they want a partner with a similar sense of humour.
In an op-ed, the authors discussed why these findings seem surprising.
“Current research is mixed on the benefits of humour when it comes to physiological well-being, relationship satisfaction and workplace harmony. Yet humour is commonly regarded as a character strength,” wrote Xiao.
This also hints at the question of whether the issue stems from Canadians not checking their biases. While one cannot infer the exact meaning of the preference, the researchers state that it seems as though it may reflect an implicit bias.
“[Canadians can] unpack what they think is funny, what they think is interesting and introduce people to that activity,” suggested Xiao. “[You can] spend time explaining what makes that funny or interesting to give a chance for other people to understand and appreciate.”