Mind & Body

A Dark Sense Of Humor May Mean You Have A High IQ

Ever have an inappropriate joke pop into your head during a somber moment? Ever laugh at a joke that you actually thought was morbid or sinister? Your dark taste in humor may actually mean you've got a high IQ.

You Better Not Laugh

There's no shame in letting out a little smirk after reading a borderline disturbing meme online. Having a morbid sense of humor doesn't necessarily mean you're a twisted psychopath (keyword: necessarily). According to a study published in January 2017 in the journal Cognitive Processing, understanding dark humor may be indicative of high intelligence. Of the three groups of participants in the study, those with a high preference and comprehension of dark humor also had high nonverbal and verbal intelligence, as well as no mood disturbance and low aggressiveness.

The study's subjects were asked several questions about the morbid humor they were exposed to. These questions include how hard it was to understand the joke, how surprised they were by the joke's content, whether the joke was novel to them or not, and how interesting they found the joke. The people who enjoyed the jokes the most tended to be the more intelligent and educated of the study's subjects.

The researchers behind the study suggest that processing morbid humor requires a little bit more brainwork than processing regular, normal-people jokes. In particular, the researchers pointed to a phenomenon they called "frame blends" where a particular situation is framed in one way, then shifted to a different frame to create a humorous effect. This "frame blending" action should require more cognitive resources when the subject matter of either frame was sinister or otherwise unpalateable, since the conscious mind would actually have to overcome this distaste to get to the punchline of the joke – a typical reward psychological mechanism.

The study describes this humor as "a kind of humour that treats sinister subjects like death, disease, deformity, handicap or warfare with bitter amusement" and states that it "is used to express the absurdity, insensitivity, paradox and cruelty of the modern world." The book they used to test the study participants was "The Black Book" by Uli Stein, which is about "abysmal, deep black humour beyond all limits of taste."

Get It? Get It?

Before you automatically consider yourself a genius because you love Chuck Palahniuk and Kurt Vonnegut, keep in mind that only people of average intelligence tended not to handle morbid humor that well. The bottom end of the IQ bell curve also had a small-but-pronounced tendency to laugh at the jokes presented in the study. But feel free to test yourself — do you understand these jokes used in the study?

1. In an operating theatre, a surgeon has one arm deep in an opened body. Another surgeon explains the situation to a man in a suit: "The autopsy is finished; he is only looking for his wristwatch."

2. In a morgue, a physician is lifting a white cover sheet off a body with a woman standing beside him. The woman confirms: "Sure, that's my husband – anyway, which washing powder did you use to get that so white?"

Written by Joanie Faletto & Austin Jesse Mitchell February 14, 2017

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