Humour sells. This is the reason we adore Mr Bean and applaud comedian Russell Peters. But is there more to humour than it just being entertainment?

Take a trip back to 14 March 1951, Albert Einstein was celebrating his 72nd birthday and when the photographer persuaded him to smile, he stuck out his tongue—creating one of the most iconic pictures. It was hardly surprising, as the great genius was known for his childlike sense of humour. But he also claimed that humour powered his brilliant intellect.

Since then, many scientists have associated having a good sense of humour to being able to think and reason at higher levels.

Granted, laughter is the best medicine, but is it too far-fetched to put it in the high places of intelligence?

If this is true, should we all quit poring over books, charts and figures, and instead, aspire to be comedians, laughing our way up to success?

Laughter stimulates creative thinking

It is undeniable that funny people make other people laugh, and they, too, laugh more themselves. Neurobiology shows that laughter triggers brain changes, which may hint at the link between humour and intelligence.

According to neurologists, experiencing positive emotional states, such as joy, fun and happiness, increases the production of dopamine in the brain. This in turn triggers the learning centres of the brain, thus enhancing our creativity and flexibility.

Individuals who enjoy dark humour, portrayed higher IQ levels compared to those who did not, according to researchers in Austria.
Individuals who enjoy dark humour, portrayed higher IQ levels compared to those who did not, according to researchers in Austria.

Recently, researchers in Austria found that individuals who enjoy dark humour, portrayed higher IQ levels compared to those who did not.

Led by Ulrike Willinger at the Medical University of Vienna, the study assessed 156 adults, comprising an equal number of men and women from varied backgrounds, with an average age of 33 years. They were asked to rate the cartoons based on the difficulty to understand the joke, its vulgarity, how surprising its punch line was, and how interesting the topic was.

The findings showed that those who enjoyed black humour jokes were more intelligent, had a higher education level and were less aggressive. On the other hand, those who were least inclined to like the dark cartoons had lower levels of intelligence and were more aggressive and susceptible to mood changes.

This led to the conclusion that processing and producing humour requires both cognitive and emotional abilities.

Association between humour and intelligence established since the 90s

The research brings about scepticism, but early studies support the association between humour and intelligence.

Back in 1990, biologist A. Michael Johnson provided evidence on the correlation between perceptual and motor skills and the ability to solve problems. His participants had to rate 32 jokes for funniness and solve 14 visually-displayed mental rotation problems.

Those with faster mental rotation times rated the jokes as funnier, associating problem solving ability with humour comprehension.

Studies by the University of New Mexico, compared a group of comedians and 400 students in a creative procedure. The findings showed that the comedians not only produced more and funnier caption ideas than the students had, but also scored higher on the verbal intelligence test, which generally correlates with overall intelligence.

Humour may just define success

Humour enhances our well-being.
Humour enhances our well-being.

Apart from that, evidence suggests that humour enhances our well-being; it calms and releases tension, while boosting levels of self-esteem, competence and status.

Funny people are also found to communicate more effectively, and make good leaders. Studies of positive organisations suggest the more fun the workplace is, the higher the productivity, and the lower the likelihood of burnout.

The ability of funny people to see the humour in themselves puts them at an advantage, according to researchers at Stanford University, led by Dr Allan Reiss, neuroscientist and child psychiatrist. He also stated that funny people are more resilient in handling stressful and difficult situations.

In the area of learning, studies have demonstrated that lessons delivered with humour are more engaging and when students enjoy the lessons, their comprehension, mastery and recall of the topic become easier.

So perhaps, keeping a sense of humour is just the smart thing to do. MIMS

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