If you've ever been chastised by others for liking particularly dark and disturbing jokes, then rest assured that there's a new study which might make your friends and family feel a little less weird about your sense of humor: A link between intelligence and dark humor has been discovered by researchers in Vienna and published in a journal called Cognitive Processing. So if you like chuckling at the jokes which leave others squirming in discomfort, then maybe you're a genius. Just saying.
OK, "genius" may be a slight exaggeration. But whilst liking dark humor may not necessarily align you with Einstein, researchers led by Ulrike Willinger at the Medical University of Vienna found that those who preferred the dark stuff scored higher in various IQ tests. According to Indy100, Willinger's team asked 156 participants to rate their understanding and enjoyment of 12 cartoons that were taken from The Black Book by Uli Stein — an anthology of darkly comedic cartoons. Verbal and non-verbal IQ tests were also completed; additionally, participants also had to answer questions about their personal background.
Those who appreciated disturbing jokes the most were found to score highest on both verbal and non-verbal IQ tests; furthermore, they were also found to be better educated. Researchers also concluded that "emotional instability and higher aggressiveness... lead to decreased levels of pleasure when dealing with black humor."
So what's the reason for this morbid yet fascinating link? Willinger and team said that enjoying dark humor is a "complex information-processing task" — meaning only the smartest cookies can pick up on pithy puns and low blows.
But perhaps there's more to it. Megan Flynn, author of The Psychological Benefit Of Dark Humor, noted on the website Foxy Wine Pocket that "humor has long been known for its ability to reduce stress and improve mood. ... We get to enjoy physical changes in heart rate and improved oxygen consumption whilst laughing. After-giggle affects include slowed heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and overall more mellow physiology." She continued, "These changes are likely due to changes in the endocrine system and reductions in cortisol and epinephrine. The stress hormone regulation thing might also explain why some people laugh during times of anxiety or grief, say at funerals as their bodies are trying to find a way to calm down." Ultimately, concluded Flynn, "Dark humor may be a type of cognitive behavioral strategy what serves a dual purpose of exposing individuals to the topics they fear the most along with those super awesome bodily calming effects."
Either way, although the study only focused on 156 participants with an average age of 33, it offers a fascinating insight into how and why things are funny and what the way we react to jokes says about human nature and our own psychology. Interestingly, other research suggests that our sense of humor changes with age — so if you're not into black humor now, there's still time for your brain to adjust to it. Or not. You do you.