The darker your sense of humour, the more likely you are to have a high IQ and less likely to be aggressive or have erratic moods.

The more likely you are to get a dark joke, the higher your verbal and non-verbal IQ are likely to be, according to a psychological study of 156 people. The study, published in the journal Cognitive Processing, also found that – contrary to popular belief – those with a darker sense of humour are also less likely to have negative moods or be violent or aggressive.

Black humour was defined as "humour that treats sinister subjects such as death, disease, deformity, handicap or warfare with bitter amusement and presents such tragic, distressing or morbid topics in humorous terms", the study authors wrote in the paper.

Study participants were given 12 cartoons from Uli Stein's The Black Book to read. The cartoons included jokes including:

"In an operating theatre a surgeon has one arm deep in an opened body. Another surgeon explains the situation to a man in a suit: 'The autopsy is finished; he is only looking for his wrist watch.'"

And:

"Death, impersonated by a skeleton in a hooded coat holding an hourglass and a sickle stands at the doorstep of a man's apartment. The man: 'I am sorry, we do not die at the front door.'"

The participants rated the cartoons on several scales, including how easy they were to understand, how fitting the punchlines were and how tasteless, surprising and interesting the jokes were overall. They also took verbal and non-verbal IQ tests and did a questionnaire to assess their day-to-day moods.

Those who scored highest on the IQ tests were more likely to get the joke and to find it funny.

And despite the fact that black humour frequently makes use of the same devices as tragedies, people with darker senses of humour were also less likely to be aggressive or moody than the rest of the participants. The finding dispels the popular myth that people with a dark sense of humour are more likely to be nasty or even psychopathic.

There were no particular differences according to gender or age, but people who had higher levels of education were more likely to get the joke.

However, people who had average intelligence scores but ranked highly on aggression were the least likely to appreciate a dark joke.

"Emotional instability and higher aggressiveness apparently lead to decreased levels of pleasure when dealing with black humour," the authors wrote.