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A Dark Sense Of Humor Has Been Linked To High Intelligence

Here’s a joke for you:

What did Kermit the frog say at Jim Henson’s funeral?

Give up?


How about this one:

Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?

Because they taste funny.

If you find these jokes amusing, you could be smarter than the average Joe. According to new research published in the journal Cognitive Processing, psychologists have concluded that people who “get” dark humor may have higher IQs. The study beneath the research also found folks who appreciate dark jokes show lower aggression and resist negative feelings more easily than folks who don’t get a chuckle from this type of humor.

What exactly defines “dark humor?” I’m glad you asked. Researchers described the term as humor that treats sinister subjects (like death, disease, deformity, handicap or warfare) with bitter amusement and present such tragic, distressing or morbid topics in humorous terms. Got it? Just for fun, here’s another example:

What has four legs and one arm?

A happy pitbull.

Now you get the gist. To test the correlation between sense of humor and intellect, researchers gathered a pool of 156 participants, both male and female.  The participants read 12 dark cartoons from The Black Book, by German cartoonist Uli Stein. Each of the cartoons illustrates a dark joke. One, for instance, shows a mortician reaching deep into a cadaver as a nurse muses, “The autopsy is finished; he is only looking for his wrist watch.”

Participants were asked whether they understood each joke and whether they found it funny. Afterward, they took basic IQ tests and answered questions about their mood, educational background, and aggressive tendencies. The results from the study were remarkably consistent.

Those participants who both enjoyed and “got” the dark jokes showed higher IQs, and reported less aggressive tendencies than those who did not. On the other hand, participants who least liked the humor showed the highest levels of aggression and the worst moods of the group.

This is true in my experience. I have several friends and co-workers with very dark senses of humor. They are all very smart and easy going.

But why is there a link between dark humor and intelligence? Researchers posit that processing a dark joke takes a more mental power than, say, a knock-knock joke; dark humor requires us to do additional emotional maneuvering. This maneuvering requires parsing multiple layers of meaning while creating a bit of emotional distance from the content so that it registers as benign instead of hostile.

The takeaway here is that dark jokes require more emotional control to earn a laugh. They rely on much more than just wordplay.  And it’s this process that sets dark jokes apart from other types of jokes.

Take puns, for instance. These jokes literally pit your brain’s right and left hemispheres against each other as you process a single word’s multiple meanings. It’s an exercise. But they don’t force you out of your emotional comfort zone. This is a power inherent in dark humor.

Want to put your brain (and your funny bone) to the test? Check out a few more dark jokes below. You may have a laugh in spite of yourself.

“I’m sorry” and “I apologize” mean the same thing. Except at a funeral.

Cats have nine lives. Makes them ideal for experimentation.

I have a vest. If I had my arms cut off, it would be a jacket.

Check Out: Growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional.

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