We recently wrote an article about how a man fell into one of Yellowstone’s many hot springs and completely dissolved within a day. It’s a grim but scientifically fascinating tale, which people reacted to in a variety of ways. One of the most common comments, however, was something along the lines of “Well, now I know where to hide a dead body in an emergency.”
If this (presumably) tongue-in-cheek comment made you laugh, then congratulations – you may have a high IQ. According to a new study in the journal Cognitive Processing, there is a strong correlation between intelligence and dark humor.
Led by the Medical University of Vienna, 156 people – a mixture of men and women with an average age of 33 and from a range of educational backgrounds – were first given a generalized IQ test involving verbal and non-verbal reasoning questions. They were then asked to take a look at and react to 12 cartoons by German cartoonist Uli Stein, all of which had a rather bleak component to them.
One particular example features a couple being spoken to by a medical professional, with the woman in this case being pregnant. The GP then tells them “To begin with, here is the good news: your child will always find a parking space.”
Undoubtedly, you will react differently to this than to others, but if you did giggle while questioning your moral fortitude, then you probably enjoy so-called dark humor. This type of humor has long been associated with people who are of a rather melancholic disposition, and has rarely been linked to those with higher cognitive functions.
However, this study suggests something rather interesting instead. Those that appreciated and understood the jokes the most not only had the highest IQ test results, but they also scored lower for general aggression, negative moods, and were better educated.
Does this induce a little giggle, dear reader? Sergey Zaykov/Shutterstock
Those that absolutely hated the jokes seemed to have average IQ scores, along with the highest levels of aggression and most potent negative moods. The participants that moderately understood and appreciated the humor of the jokes also had average IQ scores, but they were only averagely aggressive by nature and had a mostly positive outlook on life.
The point here is that dark humor is a complex form of humor. Grim subjects like death or disability put many people off, but by being able to quickly see through the darkness to instinctively laugh at the clever construction of language – assisted by a generally good frame of mind – takes a higher level of cognitive processing.
So don’t worry if you have a giggle at a bit of gallows humor. It doesn’t mean you’re evil – just a bit smarter than the average Joe.