If you want to find out if someone has a high IQ, just crack them a sick joke and wait for their reaction. Past researches have observed some offbeat behavior among people with higher IQ, and now showing appreciation of sick or dark humor may be yet another peculiar behavior of people with higher intelligence – to be added on the list.
According to psychologists, you need a certain amount of mental agility to understand where the joke is going because there may be sudden shift of meaning you may need to recognize or appreciate even if the joke contains odd contexts. Writing in the journal Cognitive Process, researchers from Medical University of Vienna in Austria, say that not only do those with higher intelligence show appreciation of sick jokes, they are among ones who are better educated and have the lowest scores for aggression and bad mood.
For the study, the team recruited 156 people with an average age of 33, including 76 women and asked them to rate their comprehension and enjoyment of 12 black humor cartoons taken from The Black Book by Uli Stein. Just to give you a vague idea of what kind of humor participants are looking at, one of the examples includes a cartoon depicting a confused man holding a public telephone, and the voice coming from the phone saying: “Here is the answering machine of the self-help association for Alzheimer patients. If you still remember your topic, please speak after the tone.”
Another cartoon depicts a morgue where a physician lifts a cover sheet off a body, and a woman confirms: “Sure, that’s my husband – anyway, which washing powder did you use to get that so white?”
Another depicts a group of surgeons in an operating theater in the middle of what looks like a heart surgery. Without a sign of warning the heart springs out of the patient’s body right into one of the surgeons’ faces, and one of the surgeons saying: “That’s the most amazing case of tissue rejection I’ve ever seen!”
Examples included topics like death, disease, deformity, handicap or warfare with bitter and present such tragic, distressing or morbid topics in humorous terms. And for each humor cartoons researchers presented, the participants were asked to rate the cartoons with respect to difficulty like how hard is it to understand the humor of this joke, to get the point, how well the punch line seems to fit the situation leading up to it, and how vulgar or tasteless it sounds?
The team also conducted measurements of verbal and nonverbal intelligence, and asked the participants about their mood disturbance, aggressive tendencies and educational background. They found that there was no difference in gender regarding appreciation of dark humor, and age was not a factor either. But as British Psychological Society Research Digest blog explains, they were able to identify three distinct groups based on their understanding and appreciation for the black humors.
Group 1: High black or dark humor comprehension and preference, high non-verbal and verbal intelligence, no mood disturbances, and low values in aggressiveness.
This group showed the highest sick humor appreciation and comprehension, and also scored the highest in verbal and non-verbal IQ tests. They were also better educated, and scored lower for aggression and bad mood.
Group 2: Moderate black humor preference and moderate comprehension; average nonverbal and verbal intelligence; low mood disturbance and moderate aggressiveness.
This second group showed moderate sick humor comprehension and preference. They scored average on intelligence scores, and generally of a positive mood with moderate aggression scores.
Group 3: Low black humor preference and moderate comprehension; average nonverbal and verbal intelligence, high mood disturbance and high aggressiveness.
This group showed moderate comprehension of the jokes but didn’t enjoy them much. They had average intelligence scores, but showed the highest negative mood and the highest aggression levels.
The Guardian reports that these new findings challenge earlier theories about the correlation between aggression and humor, because as Freud hypothesized in 1905 that “humor allows for a safe release of usually repressed sexual and aggressive urges.” Accordingly, a post on British Psychological Society Research Digest blog notes that although the findings fit with past research showing that sense of humor correlates with IQ, they disprove the belief that “people who like black humor tend to be grumpy and perhaps a little prone to sadism.”
According to Ulrike Willinger, the lead researcher of the study, and her team, being able to appreciate black humor is “complex information-processing task, and “it takes a certain amount of intelligence, good mood and calmness to recognize and enjoy the “playful fiction” of black humor.” Furthermore, ScienceAlert notes that if one is unhappy, rather than taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune in sick jokes or dark cartoons, he/she struggles to engage with the humor.
“It could be shown that subjects who are in a bad mood are most likely to dislike black humor and show lower values with respect to black humor comprehension than subjects who show low mood disturbance,” the team writes in the journal. “These results support studies which show that subjective humor response is influenced by pre-existing mood, as well as the notion that bad mood impairs the involvement in humor, rather than facilitating the appreciation of aggressive humor.”
Similarly, if one has aggressive feelings towards others, you might think that they would enjoy their misfortunes in sick joke. Well, the results showed otherwise. “Seemingly, only those subjects who have no aggressive feelings towards others, as well as no mood disturbance such as dysphoric or depressive mood, can afford or get away with the playful exposure in the course of black humor processing,” the team further writes. “Another hypothesis would be that aggressiveness as well as bad mood could lead to a reduced information-processing capacity with respect to cognitively demanding humorous contents.”
As the researchers concluded, dark humor preference and comprehension are positively associated with people who have higher verbal and nonverbal intelligence and higher levels of education. People who are emotionally unstable and aggressive apparently don’t do well when dealing with sick jokes or dark humor. Humor processing involves “cognitive as well as affective components,” because to understand a joke, you need to stay mentally active.
So appreciation of sick jokes is just another characteristic of genius. Smart people are also seen doing incongruous things like wearing the same shirt every day and using recreational drugs just for the sake of it. Well, the good thing is they don’t smoke which doesn’t sound so peculiar, but they are alcoholic, which is bad. If you are interested in knowing whether or not you are genius, this article might help you.
Great piece. I’ll bet there are a lot of people who like dark humor until their particular sore spot is targeted.
It amazes me how scientists come up with such correlations.
It seems I have dark humor.
Good for you, but bad for the ones who wouldn’t appreciate. 🙂
I have found that people even with severe depression retain a knack for wit and a creative and appreciate sense of humor.
Yes, funny people are often the saddest. 😦
Looks like telling someone a joke can tell someones mental agility,interesting.
Yes. By far, it’s the easiest way one can find out if someone is a genius. 🙂