Sarcasm was once referred to as the “highest form of intelligence” by Oscar Wilde. On the other hand, it has also commonly been called the “lowest form of wit.” And while some folks may shy away from sarcasm, regarding it as caustic and unfriendly, the latest research has shown that sarcasm between friends does not create a vibe of contempt, as one might expect. In fact, it can even reinforce sincerity in the relationship, as both parties interact honestly with each other. So how can we explain the link between sarcasm and intelligence? What about sarcasm and creativity?
The important thing to remember is that sarcasm does not always manifest as a simple, rude comment – for example, having someone ask if you are excited for a family vacation, and you sarcastically reply, “Yea, sure.” Sarcasm can instead serve many beneficial purposes – like lightening the mood in a tense room, or revealing an honest sentiment that others were afraid to say out loud. The comedy of Louis C.K is a perfect example of how sarcasm can actually draw people together. He has made a career from simple discussions that make use of referencing everyday experiences that we all go through and relate to. Sarcasm gives us the opportunity to vent and express life frustrations in a healthy way that often evokes humor – much more healthy than forcing ourselves to always project fake sincerity, right?
With that said, here are 3 reasons Harvard and Columbia University researchers say sarcasm brings us closer to finding our internal creativity and intelligence.
1. They have to think harder
Sarcasm requires more thought. When you respond to a remark someone makes, a non-sarcastic response is fairly simple to achieve. The brain does not have to perform acrobatics to arrive at a straightforward response to a straightforward question. But a sarcastic response requires an extra layer of thinking within the same amount of time. As minor as this may seem, it still counts as a brain exercise. You are considering the expected response versus how you really feel, and you’re fusing those to quickly create a response that can be both humorous and cryptic. This is why others do not always realize we are being sarcastic right away. They must think a bit deeper into the subject in order to realize our true intent.
2. They recognize more possibilities
Sarcasm allows the mind to expand. Among the bundle of characteristics researchers have linked to creativity, sarcasm is one of the most fascinating correlations we’ve seen yet. Researchers at Harvard and Columbia found that those on the giving and receiving end of sarcastic comments were able to perform up to 3 times better on creativity tests. Simply being exposed to sarcasm showed a surprising benefit – 75% of those exposed to sarcastic content figured out a tricky creative task, compared to just 25% of those exposed to sincere content. Thus sarcasm seems to have the power to open our minds to greater possibility and “outside-the-box” idea generation. This is a mindset we don’t typically find ourselves in.
3. They can think abstractly
Sarcasm promotes conceptualization. If you are wondering whether sarcasm really has any practical benefit, findings point to yes. What truly links sarcasm to intelligence is that it opens the doors for abstract thinking – which has long been linked to higher intelligence. After all, it is only abstract thinking that significantly separates humans from animals.
Harvard researchers point out that sarcasm can even benefit those in the workplace, where abstract thinking is often highly valuable to productivity. However, they do propose one warning: make sure your coworkers understand your sarcasm. The study found that not everyone is receptive to sarcastic humor, and that it can even make people feel tense. So dish out the sarcasm to your pals who appreciate it – and maybe save the sincerity for your boss.
Featured photo credit: gabriel saldana via flickr.com