Study: Sarcasm is good for the minds of those who use it, hear it

WASHINGTON — They call sarcasm “hostility disguised as humor.” It drives some people crazy. It’s not helpful, they say; it’s not constructive.

Yeah right.

Research from three business experts says that sarcasm can help develop a sense of abstraction, which leads to greater creativity – not only in the people who practice it, but the people who hear it, the Harvard Gazette reports.

It’s about the brain power required 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,” one of the study’s authors, Francesca Gino, of the Harvard Business School, tells the Gazette.

Adam Galinksy, another author, from the Columbia Business School, says it’s possible that sarcasm is a symptom, not a cause, of creative thinking, but the fact that those who heard sarcastic humor tended to score higher on creativity tasks “suggests that sarcasm has the potential to catalyze creativity in everyone.”

Gino says that the study could help organizations and communications coaches not to write off sarcasm or to assume that it’s an unalloyed negative.

“Instead of discouraging workplace sarcasm completely as they have been doing, they could help educate individuals about the appropriate circumstances under which sarcasm can be used.” Gino says.

The experts do advise that “to minimize the relational cost while still benefiting creatively, sarcasm is better used between people who have a trusting relationship.”

In other words, if you employ sarcastic humor, you might really turn off the people who don’t like it or get it.

And goodness knows you wouldn’t want to risk damaging your relationships with such geniuses.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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