Study says smart people tend to like mean jokes

Ulrike Willinger and a team of researchers from the Medical University of Vienna conducted a study to find out whether there is a relation between dark humor appreciation, mood, intelligence, and aggressiveness.

Their findings show a link between all the variables, and the full report was published in the journal Cognitive Processing earlier this month.

The results of the experiment provide scientific evidence about widely accepted theories that correlated higher IQ indicators with understanding and appreciating what for most are tasteless jokes and pranks.

Dark humor and high IQ: The experiment

Scientists at the Medical University of Vienna gathered a sample population of 156 people. They were all male and female adults averaging 33 years of age.

The group was then subjected to a general IQ test which featured questions in two areas: verbal and non-verbal reasoning. They also had to give details about their education and personal background.

Then, test subjects were asked to see and react to a set of 12 cartoons. The cartoons belonged to The Black Book, an anthology of raw humor drawings by Uli Stein, described by the German author as “Abyssal, deep black humor beyond all limits of taste.”

Results show smarter people have a darker sense of humor

Cross-referencing test results and reactions showed that the sample broke down into three main groups with differing qualities according to their preference levels of dark humor.

First came the group which had a moderate acceptance and understanding of the offensive cartoons. The people in this group displayed equally moderate tendencies in aggressiveness but low mood changes, and average IQ overall.

The second group understood the jokes but did not like them one bit. They were in the middle of the intelligence scale and became highly disturbed and outraged after seeing the cartoons.

Finally, there was the group who not only got the jokes right away but also laughed at them. People belonging to this group scored the highest in verbal and non-verbal tests and showed no mood swings after checking out The Black Book.

Humor appreciation may change over time

Willinger and others briefly state in the paper abstract that “BLACK HUMOR PREFERENCE AND COMPREHENSION ARE POSITIVELY ASSOCIATED WITH HIGHER VERBAL AND NON-VERBAL INTELLIGENCE AS WELL AS HIGHER LEVELS OF EDUCATION,” the paper reads

However, there is a slight margin of error that does include anomalies with opposing variables, namely low IQ and a strong preference for dark humor and vice versa.

These tendencies are not set in stone either, as people are constantly changing and their intelligence can increase or stay still. That, in turn, can affect humor perception and open new horizons both in the intellectual and comedic realms.

Source: Cognitive Processing

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