Friday, February 12, 2016

Oh Great, an Article About Sarcasm! By Anita Durairaj

According to Merriam-Webster, sarcasm is defined as: "A mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual". I have often questioned the effects of sarcastic remarks thrown around by people I know. From the Greek and Latin for "to tear flesh," sarcasm, I concluded, should be reserved for smart-alecks and is best avoided. Or so I thought.

Surprisingly, research shows that sarcasm actually can have mental benefits. “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence,” wrote that connoisseur of wit, Oscar Wilde. The Science of Sarcasm? Yeah, Right! Actually, research done by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, Adam Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, and Li Huang of INSEAD, the European business school, have shown that sarcasm can exercise the brain in various ways. "To create or decode sarcasm, both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction 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", says Gino. Simply put, sarcasm has the ability to stimulate creativity in everyone. 

Of course, sarcastic remarks have a tendency to lead to misunderstanding, but this is true mostly for conversations between people who don't know each other that well. Galinsky stated: “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." 

Sarcasm also exercises the brain more than sincerity does. Your brain has to work harder to make a sarcastic remark that it does to make a sincere one. Also, detecting sarcasm in a remark is good for  he development of our brains. "Sarcasm detection is an essential skill if one is going to function in a modern society dripping with irony. Our culture in particular is permeated with sarcasm,” says Katherine Rankin, a neuropsychologist at the University of California at San Francisco. “People who don’t understand sarcasm are immediately noticed. They’re not getting it. They’re not socially adept". 

If you break a glass and your bother says, "Nice one," a theory of mind allows you to know that your brother means the opposite. This sarcastic remark becomes somewhat of a true lie. It's supposed to be funny and mean at the same time. Some researchers have found that using sarcasm as a gentler form of an insult could work the opposite way. For example, if a kid comes in sloppily dressed his mother could say, "Nice to see the effort you took to look good today", rather than "You look terrible". It tones down the criticism with humor. 

Further research still has to be done on this topic, but it is clear that sarcasm should not be prohibited. So go ahead, be sarcastic. 

(Palpatine meme, 

Sources: "The Surprising Benefits of Sarcasm" by Francesa Gino, Scientific AmericanHarvard Gazette, "Go ahead, be sarcastic" by Christina Pazzanese, Harvard Gazette, and "The Science of Sarcasm? Yeah, Right" by Richard Chin, Smithsonian. 

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