Why funny people are more intelligent than their po-faced peers

by Lowri Dowthwaite / 30 December, 2017

Albert Einstein, obligingly poking out his tongue when asked to by reporters. Photo / Getty Images

Albert Einstein attributed his brilliant mind to having a child-like sense of humour. Indeed, a number of studies have found an association between humour and intelligence.

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humour, have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humour. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they’re nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humour is linked to high emotional intelligence and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates.

In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

Negative humour style. Everett Collection/Shutterstock 

In psychology we use the term “positive humour style” to refer to people who use humour to enhance relationships and reduce conflict. This type of humour is associated with relationship satisfaction, extroversion and high self-esteem Having a humorous outlook on life is also a good coping strategy. It helps people better manage stress and adversity.

More negative humour styles, such as sarcasm, ridicule and self-defeating humour, do not offer the same benefits. Instead, they tend to alienate people and are more often associated with depressed mood and aggression.

Not only do funny people make other people laugh, they also laugh more themselves. And neurobiology shows that laughter leads to brain changes, which may explain the link between humour and intelligence.

Neuropsychological studies have found that experiencing positive emotional states, such as joy, fun and happiness, increases the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine not only make us feel great, it also opens up the learning centres of the brain, which enables and sustains more neural connections. As a result, we become more flexible and creative in our thinking, and better at solving problems. It also boosts our working memory.

Humour for success

Evidence suggests that humour actually boosts perceptions of confidence, competence and status, making funny people very influential. Humour gets people to listen, helps communicate messages and aids learning. It is a powerful tool that many successful leaders use to enhance group cohesiveness and organisational culture. Studies of positive organisations suggest the more fun we have at work the more productive we are, and the less likely we are to suffer burn-out.

The “broaden and build” theory also supports the idea that experiencing positive emotions through humour actually alters our thoughts, actions and physiological responses. It creates a virtuous circle effect that enhances well-being.

Research on the use of humour in education also supports the notion that humour is an effective aid to learning. Several studies have demonstrated that lessons that are delivered with humour are more enjoyable for students, and also enhance students comprehension and recall of the topic.

Given the host of benefits that being funny brings, perhaps we could all benefit from joining a stand-up comedy workshop. It seems like the smart thing to do.

The Conversation



Lowri Dowthwaite, Lecturer in Psychological Interventions, University of Central Lancashire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


What's with Winston's crush on Russia?
88370 2018-03-18 00:00:00Z Politics

What's with Winston's crush on Russia?

by Jane Clifton

Winston Peters has a thing about Russia, and no one can explain why.

Read more
The Queen reveals her 'horrible' coronation day memories
88346 2018-03-18 00:00:00Z Books

The Queen reveals her 'horrible' coronation day me…

by Fiona Rae

When the Queen saw the crown for the first time in 65 years, she couldn’t tell the front from the back.

Read more
Why is getting your pet into New Zealand such an ordeal?
88103 2018-03-18 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Why is getting your pet into New Zealand such an o…

by Laura McQuillan

Bringing your pet into New Zealand is an expensive exercise that requires a lot of patience. And if you don't comply, your pet could die.

Read more
What the sexual harassment allegations mean for the Labour Party
88374 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Politics

What the sexual harassment allegations mean for th…

by Bill Ralston

The response to the weekend camp fiasco suggests the honeymoon for the new Government is over.

Read more
The art and soul of Te Papa
88235 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Arts

The art and soul of Te Papa

by Sally Blundell

Twenty years ago, Te Papa opened with little space to exhibit its national art collection. Now, it is showing off its new dedicated art space.

Read more
Does chewing more help curb your appetite?
87918 2018-03-17 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Does chewing more help curb your appetite?

by Jennifer Bowden

Our appetite-control hormones are affected by chewing, according to some studies, whereas others show no change.

Read more
How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the crowd to queen of the stage
88396 2018-03-16 09:42:00Z Music

How Auckland rapper JessB went from face in the cr…

by Vomle Springford

Auckland rapper JessB is making her mark in the male-dominated hip-hop scene with the release of her much-anticipated debut EP Bloom.

Read more
Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of military aircraft
88389 2018-03-16 07:02:40Z Politics

Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of milit…

by Craig McCulloch

Defence Minister Ron Mark is denying any inappropriate use of military aircraft after revelations he has used them to fly to and from home.

Read more