It takes intelligence to find sick jokes funny

People with a dark sense of humour are more intelligent, more emotionally stable, and less aggressive. It takes higher cognitive and emotional skills to understand sick jokes.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a cleverly constructed, deliberately offensive and controversial joke – the more outrageous, the better. But it has to be intelligent. In other words, the joke must be constructed in such a way that the irony cannot be mistaken for real hatred, racism, any other kind of ism or anti-this and anti-that.

Psychologists from the Medical University of Vienna discovered that people who enjoy gallows humour tend to score highly on intelligence and emotional stability tests. This is because something can be funny even if it may seem offensive to others. Intelligent minds are more able to discern and understand the difference between offensiveness and intent. The intent of humour would highlight for example, the reality of social injustice, religious silliness or political hypocrisy, all of which are legitimate targets for jokes.

To be able to do this requires a certain amount of cognitive and emotional skill. To get a joke, one has to be able to peel back the layers of the joke. This requires not only a degree of mental agility but also the ability to think outside the box, just as understanding a pun requires the ability to unravel layers of meaning and a degree of mental exercise. It’s also helpful if one has not been indoctrinated by left wing ideology, steeped in snowflake sensitivity, or has been brainwashed by political correctness.

People process humour in different ways and there are many variables which require the brain to work rapidly to blend ideas and concepts. Dark humour treats subjects that would normally be taboo – death, deformity, disability, religion, race, migration, war, loss, tragedy – and reveals the opposite of what is being expressed as the truth.

Comedians like Frankie Boyle are perfect examples – his total irreverence to everything on the list above, and more, makes us understand ideas, emotions and events differently. He makes us see things in a different light – he makes us question our comfortable preconceptions of the world.

The researchers think that comprehension of this type of humour is a mark of intelligence. A preference for, and comprehension of dark humour are positively associated with higher verbal and nonverbal intelligence, as well as higher levels of education.

The research team asked 156 participants to rate some dark humour cartoons. Volunteers were asked whether they understood the joke, whether they thought it was good, and whether they found it surprising, vulgar, or interesting. The personality of each participant was also tested for intelligence, emotional stability and aggressiveness.

People who understood and appreciated the humour scored more highly on the tests for verbal and nonverbal intelligence. Those who appreciated the humour in the joke also scored less highly than others on tests for emotional instability and aggression.

I understand that a lot of the stuff I find funny – and ironic – doesn’t work for other people, especially those who lean toward the left of the political and social spectrum.

The people who took part in the tests and who understood and appreciated the humour scored more highly on verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests.

The researchers believe the link between dark humour and intelligence may be because it takes both cognitive and emotional skills to understand the real meaning behind even the sickest of jokes and get the point of the unsaid, unwritten philosophy lurking behind the words.

The results confirm the theory that humour processing involves several cognitive components and points to the ability to frame-shift and conceptually blend both the narrative and the meaning of dark humour. The same processes could be applied to surreal humour – ­Monty Python being a fine example of both surreal and dark humour.

Did I tell you the one about Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter and the giraffe?

The Vienna research into that kind of joke has been published in the journal Cognitive Processing.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2017. All rights reserved.

About Andrew Newton

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Andrew Newton has an international reputation as a leading authority on hypnosis. 

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