Study finds sarcasm improves creativity, reasoning in conversations

A study found people who make or hear sarcastic comments may develop greater creativity and cognitive or reasoning functions than sincere statements. It proves that “naturally creative people” are more likely to use sarcasm on conversations.

Expressing and understanding sarcastic comments forces the brain to switch to abstract thinking, effective in boosting creativity, according to the study Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. The process showed “sarcasm has the potential to catalyse creativity in everyone.”

Researchers of INSEAD, a graduate business school in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and Harvard and Columbia Business Schools, analysed the result after giving random dialogues to participants with simulated sarcastic, sincere or neutral conversations, and then testing their creativity through reasoning tasks.

The researchers then concluded that the process of abstraction or a person’s act of dealing with ideas rather than events helps the expresser and the recipient of sarcasm to realise the true meaning of a sarcastic conversation.

By realising the contradiction between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions, creative thinking develops.

“This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking,” co-author Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School said.

In addition, sarcasm would also improve creativity three times if used between people who have mutual trust, researchers suggest. The trusting relationship will prevent development of negative perceptions, and if conflict occurs, it won’t disrupt the creative gains for both parties.

The researchers hope the results will encourage people to make and take sarcasm in appropriate circumstances to practice its creative benefits.

Further work needs to be done to better understand how the tone and content of specific kinds of sarcasm such as sarcastic criticism, complements, or sarcastic bantering affect communication in different relationships as well as the cognitive processes of individuals.

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