Dark Humor Cognition and Intelligence.

Dark Humor Cognition and Intelligence.

Humor processing and production is already considered to be an adaptive quality associated with highly intellectual individuals, and in a study done in 2011, demonstrated that “men were funnier than women on average”, and correlated positively to mating success (Greengross & Miller, 2011). Furthermore, studies have shown that individuals with higher depression scores are unable to use jokes and humor cognition as a way to cope with stressful life events (Deaner & McConatha, 1993).

However, while everyone prefers a comical and smart romantic partner, what about people that find sadistic, dark humor jokes funny? Are these people just as smart as the rest of us, or are they just twisted psychopaths?

In a recent study by the University of Vienna published in the quarterly journal – “Cognitive Processing”  has proven that individuals that were more amused by dark humor, scored higher on verbal and nonverbal IQ tests (Willinger et all., 2017)

The study consisted of 156 participants, 80 men and 76 women, in which they were exposed to cartoons from Uli Steins ‘The Black Book’. Most of the cartoons had topics such as death and physical handicaps, and subjects were asked to rate the cartoons on a four point Likert Scale based on these seven categories; 1.Difficulty to understand, 2. how well the punchline fit the build up, 3. how vulgar the joke was, 4. how surprised you were at the jokes punchline, 5. How novel the joke was in terms of originality 6. how interesting the topic was, and 7. how much do you like the joke.

To evaluate the subjects, participants were also asked to complete a ‘Vocabulary Test’ to assess verbal intelligence (Schmidt & Metzler, 1992), a ‘Number Connection Test’ to assess nonverbal intelligence (Oswald & Roth, 1997), and a culture-free intelligence test to assess cognitive performance and nonverbal IQ. A test on the participants aggressiveness was also issued, along with a mood disturbance test, to test the overall temperament of the participant.

Results found three distinct groups from the tests provided. The first group had rated the highest amusement from the dark humor comics, and also had the highest intelligence scores on the IQ tests. These individuals from this group had a higher average education, and were less aggressive. Those from a second group scored moderately for dark humor preference and aggression, and also had an average IQ score. The third group had the least preference for the dark humor jokes, and an average IQ, but had the highest scoring aggression levels.

The findings from this study correlates with other studies done on IQ and humor, and it’s proven that those who enjoyed these comics the most have a higher cognitive ability to discern between truly appalling jokes, and mischievous dark humor. This experiment proves that those who enjoy sick jokes aren’t just sick, sadistic psychopaths, but are actually highly educated, and relaxed individuals who can have a light hearted chuckle at a silly dark joke, such as this:

The Hangman's Bane: 'Is there a problem?'

Thanks for reading! 🙂



Deaner, S. L., & McConatha, J. T. (1993). The relation of humor to depression and personality. Psychological Reports, 72(3), 755-763.

Greengross, G., & Miller, G. (2011). Humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males. Intelligence, 39(4), 188-192.

Oswald, W. D., & Roth, E. (1997). Zahlenverbindungstest (Trail-making-test).

Schmidt, K. H., & Metzler, P. (1992). Wortschatztest: WST. Beltz.

Willinger, U., Hergovich, A., Schmoeger, M., Deckert, M., Stoettner, S., Bunda, I., … & Jaeckle, D. (2017). Cognitive and emotional demands of black humour processing: the role of intelligence, aggressiveness and mood. Cognitive processing, 1-9.


6 thoughts on “Dark Humor Cognition and Intelligence.

  1. Great job. There’s a certain beauty that comes from laughter, i enjoyed that you addressed dark humor specifically. You and Brittni did the same topic, that’s pretty funny. It’s great, i just went through some dark humor images on google, had a good laugh, now my mood has improved. Brittni’s comment brought up what i wanted to add, the idea that you can get a joke but not find it funny what does that say in regard to the study.
    This article discusses other forms of humor. It doesn’t talk about the relation to intelligence; however, points to the argument regarding what it may say about your personality.


  2. I really enjoyed your talk on dark humour this week and found your blog was a great supplement to the information! My boyfriend is an EMT that works about once a month out of town and is also a full time social support worker. With his profession comes a barrage of possible mental issues that he could easily succumb to if he didn’t have the proper outlets and cognitive tools to work through them. One of those tools he mentioned to me though conversation was dark humor, especially with those that could empathize with him, which were usually his friends or co-workers that he socialized with. I found an article that somewhat supports what I’m talking about and explains why one would use dark humor to relieve mental impairments. It validates that the tendency to use humor correlated with low levels of stress and that using humour socially may help people obtain social support, which is responsible for reducing the effects of certain stressors.
    Moran, C. C., & Hughes, L. P. (2006). Coping with Stress: Social Work Students and Humour. Social Work Education, 25(5), 501-517. doi:10.1080/02615470600738890


  3. I found another interesting study that examined dark humour, this time comparing men and women. Aillaud & Piolat (2012) investigated if there differences between how men and women interpret dark humor. They based their observations on 4 characteristics; surprise, incongruity, comprehension and funniness. The researchers found that there were gender effects on all the characteristics except for surprise. It was found that women reported the cartoons to be more incongruous, less comprehensible and less funny than the men in the study. The researchers note that women tend to be more sensitive to transgressions of social norms that comes with dark humour, but I would argue that’s a very extreme stretching generalization on their part. Aillaud & Piolat (2012) argue that the comprehension of dark goes beyond simple cognitive appraisal, and is influenced by factors such as gender. An interesting stance for sure, although I would argue that much for in-depth research is required.


    – Aillaud, M. & Piolat, A. (2012). Influence of Gender on Judgement of Dark and Nondark Humor. Individual Differences Research, 10, 211-222.


    1. Thank you for the comment! 🙂 That is very interesting! I would agree, more research needs to be done, however, based on the two studies I looked at, I can see how gender would affect how one interprets the joke.


  4. I did my blog on the same topic this week! The articles I came across also looked at the same study and I found the findings very fascinating. Someone within my comment actually raised a god point that ones sense of humor is very personal, and yes you need a certain level of cognitive ability to understand the jokes in order to find them funny but its also important to note that they are not exclusive to one another. You could understand the joke and not find it funny. One of the articles I referenced in my blog actually discusses how if the dark jokes made that hit close to home for a certain individual is much less likely to find the joke humorous. However, if that specific individual makes the joke it actually has coping capabilities.



    1. Hello! Ah, I just read your post! Ahahahah, I’m very sorry for doing the same topic as you, I had no idea anyone else would chose this topic! That is very interesting that humor like that can be used as a coping method! Thank you for the comment! 🙂


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