To be able to laugh at taboo subjects requires a degree of intelligence and emotional distancing!
Does dark humour make you laugh? You know, all those jokes about painful or taboo subjects such as death, disease, deformity, or sexuality? Well, researchers say that if you appreciate or indulge in dark humour, also known as morbid humour, black comedy or gallows humour, you are probably not just a genius, but also show lesser aggression and are less negative.
Not everyone has the nerves or intelligence for morbid humour. You need the nerves because you are making fun of taboo subjects, and getting others to laugh along with you. And intelligence, because understanding dark humour demands astuteness since it is not as easy to understand as your regular everyday jokes. It requires unraveling intelligent word play, and also demands better emotional control so that you can distance yourself from the content and enjoy the joke! When you try to unravel a single word’s multiple meanings, you are pitting your brain’s left and right hemispheres against each other. Top that with trying to disentangle complex emotions about taboo subjects, as well as laugh at them – and you are right out of your emotional comfort zone!
The morning after my father retired from the IAS, I heard him receiving several calls congratulating him on a great innings. To one friend who asked him the question every retired man dreads – ‘What will you do now?’ — he responded with caustic humour, “I will read the obituaries every morning to check in case there is one on me, what else?” There was a shocked silence from the other end, while we, more used to his dark brand of humour, laughed, though with some discomfort.
But that was Papa – he was prepared – indeed, looking forward to his retired years – armed with his books, his friends – and most importantly, his dark sense of humour! And when it was time for him to leave the world, he did not ditch his dark humour even then. Upon waking with a jerk from deep sleep in a darkened hospital room, he asked me, “Am I still alive?” And then in his last few hours, we heard him moan and asked if he was in pain. “No,’ he said. Asked then why he was moaning, he made us smile even then with his response, “I am moaning in order to prevent pain!”
Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna concluded after a study of 150 participants, that those with the highest comprehension and appreciation of sick humour scored the highest in IQ tests, were better educated, and scored lower for aggression and bad mood. Those who had a moderate comprehension of the jokes and enjoyed these the least, had average IQ scores, but had the highest negative mood aggression levels. A third group which showed moderate sick humour comprehension but also moderately enjoyed them, had average intelligence scores, but were more positive, with moderate aggression levels.
So, interestingly it seems that it is not the negative, grumpy ones who are prone to dark humour. Turns out that highly intelligent people with a positive attitude are the ones who comprehend and enjoy black humour better! The research explains that this is because to understand a black humour joke requires a “complex information-processing task,” which is not possible for those who are ruled by negative moods and aggression levels.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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