Opinion: Funny measures of intelligence

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Famed theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Albert Eistein often remarked that the best indication of his intelligence was his sense of humor. Well, humor and a messy desk. “I like to think that a clean desk represents an empty mind,” is attributed to the genius. A recent Australian study proves that he may have been right about this all along. Both higher intelligence and emotional intelligence are registered among those of us who can make our peers laugh. However, it is not universal. Those who bring smiles through sarcasm or ridicule of others ultimately are more likely to show indications of depression and aggression than IQ.

Sure, thoughtful adults readily admit that perception and reality are not always the same. We are unlikely to hold Bozo the Clown as the smartest of us all. A somber countenance, dark suit and deep voice have shown themselves, in the age of video, at least, to be the best path to perceived smarts. Smiling too much or being, per American singer/song-writer Billy Joel, like “John at the bar who is quick with a joke” doesn’t lead to advancement in one’s career. Too often, we wrongly find that jocularity debases our perception of those who make us happy. Collectively, we have come to believe that funny is incompatible with smart.

Academic papers are intentionally dry. Really dry. Really, really parched Earth, not-a-drop-to-drink kind of dry. News anchors were trusted when they dead panned their delivery. As they smile more, we trust them less. What is it that leads us to the false assumption? Do we envy the humorous and embrace the humorless? Or is it that we just don’t get the joke? If Einstein were living today, would his good humor change our perception, or would we make him keep his smiles to himself?


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