The darker, the better.
Do you like your humor like you like your soul: dark? The bad news is that you’re possibly more than a little twisted.
But the good news? You’re likely smarter than those who don’t like the occasional black comedy joke, and you probably have more emotional stability to boot.
Psychologists from the Medical University of Vienna had the incredible job of studying the reactions of people to sick jokes from The Black Book by Uli Stein, a cartoon-style book filled with dark humor, and published their findings in the Cognitive Processing journal.
What precisely is dark humor? Well, according to the researchers tasked with the study, it’s “a kind of humor that treats sinister subjects like death, disease, deformity, handicap or warfare with bitter amusement and presents such tragic, distressing or morbid topics in humorous terms.”
And if you’re looking for a perfect example of such humor, then look for movies like Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, In Bruges, Shaun of the Dead, Lost in Translation, and Fargo. These films are just a few examples, and they are often critically acclaimed for their presentation of comedy on subjects like murder, drugs, depression, and even, yes, a zombie apocalypse.
There are also plenty of books and even comedians whose sole schtick is dark humor, and given the scientists’ discoveries, it would also seem that the people who write or create these black comedies might just be a touch smarter, too.
“Black humor preference and comprehension are positively associated with higher verbal and nonverbal intelligence as well as higher levels of education,” said the study’s authors.
One-hundred-fifty-six people participated in rating the dark cartoons in The Black Book and were then asked questions about their comprehension of the joke, if they thought it was funny or not, and if they considered that it contained anything “surprising, vulgar, or interesting.” They were also tested for various aspects of their personalities, including intelligence, emotional stability, and aggressiveness.
According to the researchers, those who understood and could laugh along with the morbid cartoons were also more likely to score high on their verbal/non-verbal intelligence tests, as well as scoring low in emotional instability and aggression.
The reason that researchers believe these may be connected is because it takes cognitive and emotional skills to understand the jokes and also to connect with their humor. Essentially, jokes contain layers of meaning that require the ability to work them out and to find them amusing once you do understand.
They're each an individual puzzle that you need to break down on several levels, which requires brain power. But if you can laugh at something morbid and perhaps a bit unsettling, it's because you can see the humor in the situation, despite the presentation's ghoulish appearance.
So next time you find yourself laughing at a joke that your partner or friends don’t seem to understand — and perhaps also judge you for — just take a step back and realize that you’re probably a bit quicker on the draw than they are, and are perhaps a touch smarter, too.
But also, maybe don’t bring up any “dead baby” jokes in mixed company in the future.