Chances are, you know someone who has a dark sense of humor. Maybe it’s one of your friends or even a family member. Have you ever been sitting around the Thanksgiving table having a nice conversation, when suddenly Uncle Bob interrupts with a dark joke or a morbid comment? He’s cracking up while whole family turns and looks at him, your aunt shakes her head while your grandparents look offended.

Or, maybe it’s you! Maybe you’re the one who gets confused looks and solemn stares after making a joke that you personally thought was hilarious. Your friends and family might think your dark sense of humor is odd, but it turns out that there’s a strong correlation between intelligence and dark humor.


The Study

The Medical University of Vienna conducted a study made up of 156 people. The participants included both men and women, with an average age of 33 and a wide range of educational backgrounds. First, each person was given a generalized IQ test involving verbal and non-verbal reasoning questions. They were asked to look at and react to 12 cartoons by a German cartoonist named Uli Stein. All of the cartoons were rather bleak.

One of the cartoons, for example, featured a couple speaking to a medical professional. The woman was pregnant. The doctor tells the couple, “To begin with, here is the good news: your child will always find a parking space.”

(For those of you who don’t find dark humor particularly funny, I’ll give you a minute to figure that one out.)

Some might find this joke funny while others find it offensive. If you did let a quick laugh slip, you’re probably someone who enjoys dark humor, on some level. Dark humor is often associated with people who are dull, negative or melancholic. But this study proves that stereotype isn’t always true.

The Results

The participants in the study that understood and appreciated the jokes were found to have the highest IQ’s of the group. But that’s not all. They also scored lower when tested for general aggression and negative moods. Plus, they were better educated than other participants.

Those who hated the jokes were found to have average IQ scores, high levels of aggression and the most potent negative moods. Participants who moderately understood and appreciated the humor of the comics had average IQ scores, but they were only averagely aggressive and showed an outlook on life that was mainly positive.

Researchers concluded that dark humor is a complex form of humor. Subjects such as death and disability are offensive to many people, but those who are able to quickly see through the morbidity and laugh at the cleverness of the joke are operating at a higher level of cognitive processing.

So, if you’re a fan of dark humor, there’s no need to get embarrassed when you get a few strange looks. Find the person in the room who’s laughing and start a conversation. Who knows, they might be able to make you laugh!

IFL Science
Uli Stein
Springer Link