Sarcasm can promote creative thinking, a new study finds.
Sarcasm may not even be detrimental to relationships, if used between people who know each other.
Despite being considered one of the lowest forms of wit, sarcasm requires considerable mental powers to produce.
Professor Francesca Gino, one of the study’s authors, explained:
“To create or decode sarcasm, both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction (i.e., psychological distance) between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions.
This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.”
Now researchers have discovered that sarcasm can cause creativity, rather than just being its byproduct.
Professor Gino said:
“Not only did we demonstrate the causal effect of expressing sarcasm on creativity and explore the relational cost sarcasm expressers and recipients have to endure, we also demonstrated, for the first time, the cognitive benefit sarcasm recipients could reap.
Additionally, for the first time, our research proposed and has shown that to minimize the relational cost while still benefiting creatively, sarcasm is better used between people who have a trusting relationship.”
Participants in the study were put into three different conditions to have a simulated conversation: neutral, sarcastic or sincere.
Professor Adam Galinsky, a study co-author, explained the results:
“Those in the sarcasm conditions subsequently performed better on creativity tasks than those in the sincere conditions or the control condition.
This suggests that sarcasm has the potential to catalyze creativity in everyone.
That being said, although not the focus of our research, it is possible that naturally creative people are also more likely to use sarcasm, making it an outcome instead of [a] cause in this relationship.”
Amongst people who are comfortable with each other, sarcasm does not seem at all detrimental.
Professor Galinsky said:
“While most previous research seems to suggest that sarcasm is detrimental to effective communication because it is perceived to be more contemptuous than sincerity, we found that, unlike sarcasm between parties who distrust each other, sarcasm between individuals who share a trusting relationship does not generate more contempt than sincerity.”
The study was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (Huang et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Sarcastic woman image from Shutterstock