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. The study found that those with the highest preference and comprehension of dark humor also had the highest verbal and nonverbal intelligence, as well as emotional stability.

The dark humor used in the study was described 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."

The study's participants were given a series of dark jokes to read (you can read a few at the bottom of the article) and asked several questions about them. These questions included 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 participants.

The researchers behind the study suggest that processing morbid humor requires a little bit more brainwork than processing more vanilla 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 is sinister or otherwise unpalatable since the conscious mind would actually have to overcome this distaste to get to the punchline of the joke.

Related Video: A Dark Sense of Humor May Mean You Have a High IQ

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. A man scratching his chin out of confusion is clutching a phone receiver. The voice coming from the receiver says: "This is the answering machine of the self-help association for Alzheimer patients. If you still remember your topic, please speak after the tone."

3. 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?"

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: Sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

The book used in the study is unfortunately only available in German. For a dose of dark humor in English, check out "26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions" by Matthew C. Woodruff. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Austin Jesse Mitchell March 8, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.