Humor on the Brain: Smart People Like Sick Jokes

Bob's Burgers A recent study published in Cognitive Processing shows that people who like dark humor score higher on intelligence tests.

"The most surprising result is that subjects who show the highest values with respect to black humour preference and comprehension show the highest values with respect to intelligence, have higher education levels and show the lowest values regarding mood disturbance and aggression," the researchers wrote in the study.

The term "black humour" is used throughout the study, but it also goes by the phrases "dark humor," "sick jokes," or "gallows humor." Basically, these terms describe jokes that find humor in death, illness, handicaps, war, etc.

The Medical University of Vienna researchers had 156 participants (76 females, 80 males, average age 33) rate their enjoyment of 12 cartoons from The Black Book by Uli Stein. If you're curious what the sick jokes were, please refer to the study for a list of them (we can talk about our favorites in person).

The participants' verbal and non-verbal IQs were then tested, along with questions concerning their aggressiveness, education, and moods.

Three groups were identified, but age and gender ended up not being relevant. The group that showed the most appreciation and comprehension of dark humor also scored higher on verbal and non-verbal IQ tests, were less aggressive, more educated, and scored low on bad moods. The second group had the lowest dark humor enjoyment but moderately comprehended the jokes. They also exhibited the most negative mood of the groups and had the most aggression. The third group only moderately appreciated and comprehended the dark humor of the jokes. Their intelligent scores were average, and their moods were more positive, with moderate aggression.

"Black humour processing is seemingly a complex information-processing task that depends on cognitive and emotional aspects," the researchers wrote. "It can be hypothesized that these cognitive and emotional demands directly influence the mental operations underlying humour processing as they lead to an increased or decreased information-processing capacity but also facilitate the adapting of humour processing strategies in a quick and flexible way as humour processing is dependent on the content and structure of a joke."

In other words, the smartest minds understand the sickest jokes.

Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program. He manages the DCH blog and performs with .f.a.c.e., the ’95 Bulls, and Bound Together.

(Image: Shannon Ramos/Creative Commons)