Processing a dark humour is the mental exercise you need!
Humor is observed in all cultures and at all ages. But only in recent decades has the field of experimental psychology given it the respect of a fundamental human behaviour.
Historically, humour was negatively defined, suggesting it demonstrated superiority, vulgarity. Psychologists defined it as a Freudian id conflict, or a defense mechanism to hide one’s unwanted feelings.
Dark humor is all about making a funny sense of subject matters which are otherwise considered taboo, particularly subjects that are generally considered to be painful, grim and serious.
Take this example for instance:
A man walks into a rooftop bar and sits next to a guy
he esquires the guy : “What are you drinking?”
He says : “Magic beer,”
The man asks : “Oh, yeah? What’s so magical about it?”
Then he shows him. He suddenly drinks some beer, dives off the roof, flies around the building, then finally returns to his seat with a triumphant smile.
“Amazing!” the man says. “Lemme try some of that!” The man grabs the beer from him. He gulps it, leaps off the roof —and plummets 15 stories to the ground.
The bartender shakes his head. “You know, you’re a real jerk when you’re drunk, Superman.”
Let’s ignore for a moment whether or not that poor rube survived his fall (if it makes you laugh, let’s say Trampoline Man was waiting for him on the ground).
The real question is: Did you find this joke funny? Sick? Maybe a little of both?
In the paper, a team of psychologists concludes that people who appreciate dark humor—defined as “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”—may have higher Intelligence Quotient, display lower aggression, and can resist negative feelings coming off from the environment more effectively than people who would be disgusted at such humour.
To test this correlation between sense of humor and intelligence, 156 male and female participants were selected and they read 12 bleak cartoons from The Black Book by German cartoonist Uli Stein.
(One of them, which paraphrases a classic joke, shows a mortician reaching deep into a cadaver as a nurse muses, “The autopsy is finished; he is only looking for his wristwatch.”)
Participants indicated whether they could comprehend each joke and whether they found it humorous or not, then they all took some basic IQ tests and answered questionnaires about their mood, aggressive tendencies, and educational backgrounds.
The results were found to be consistent and reliable. The results were as follows:
- Participants who both understood and enjoyed the dark humor jokes showed higher IQs and reported less aggressive tendencies than those who did not.
- Incidentally, the participants who least liked the humor showed the highest levels of aggression and the worst moods out of all the participants.
The latter point makes sense when you consider the widely-studied health benefits of laughter and smiling; if you aren’t able to welcome negativity with playful optimism, of course, you won’t be able to embrace positivity too.
But what about the link to intelligence?
According to the researchers, processing dark humor jokes takes a bit more mental gymnastics than, say, processing a knock-knock joke—it’s “a complex information-processing task” that 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.
That emotional maneuvering is what sets dark humor jokes apart from, say, puns, which literally pit your brain’s right and left hemispheres against each other as you process a single word’s multiple meanings, but usually don’t force you out of your emotional comfort zone.
Tina Fey sums up the difference pretty well:
If you want to make an audience laugh, you dress a man up like an old lady and push her down the stairs. If you want to make comedy writers laugh, you push an actual old lady down the stairs.
Pretty much any joke that depends on wordplay will put your brain to work—dark humor jokes just require a bit more emotional control to gain a laugh.