Sarcasm Helps a Person Become More Creative

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Sarcasm Helps a Person Become More Creative

One line said in an article, sarcasm is an instigator in conflict but a boost for creativity. / Photo by: kudla via Shutterstock


“Sarcasm is an instigator of conflict but a catalyst for creativity,” the authors of the study,  titled The Highest Form of Intelligence: Sarcasm Increases Creativity for Both Expressers and Recipients, write. It is noted that communication experts and marriage counselors advise people to refrain from conversing with people in a sarcastic way, as this could strain their relationships. This is because when one speaks sarcastically, they are also expressing their contempt.

In 1977 research, sarcastic statements were even perceived to be more condemning than literal statements. However, in the study conducted by the researchers Li Huang, Francesca Gino, and Adam Galinsky, it was revealed that using sarcasm in conversation does not always have to be negative. In fact, because of the abstract thinking involved, it can even help increase a person’s creativity.

What Is Sarcasm?


Sarcasm has been defined and described in various ways. The researchers of the aforementioned study, which was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, characterize sarcasm as “expressions that intend to convey their true meaning by signifying their opposite meaning...”

Another definition by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, “ a sharp and often satirical utterance designed to cut or give pain.” It is derived from the Greek verb "sarkazein" meaning “to tear flesh like a dog.” Eventually, the term evolved into the Greek noun "sarkasmos", which means “a sneering or hurtful remark.”

According to the Harvard Gazette, although it is deemed as the internet’s native language, this style of talking may hinder one from gaining friends and is seen to be rather uncultured. They have also described it as “hostility disguised as humor.” Lastly, Oscar Wilde has deemed it the lowest form of wit but at the same time, the highest form of intelligence.

How Does Sarcasm Boost Creativity?

Sarcasm makes people think deeper about what the person said and get its meaning right. / Photo by: 4 PM production via Shutterstock


Mental Floss states that because sarcasm makes a person think deeper about the statement to be able to decipher the real meaning, it demands that they think about it in an abstract manner. By being able to use abstract thinking, this leads them to have more creative connections.

In the article Sarcasm Spurs Creative Thinking, which was also written by one of the authors of the study, sarcasm was called the “most common form of verbal irony”. It was stated that even though a sarcastic statement may sound serious, the recipients of its message should not take it literally. People should observe the tone used when delivering the sarcastic message. If they exaggerate their speech, this means that they mostly meant it jokingly or for amusement. To be able to make ironic remarks or fully understand them requires a person to think outside of the box.

Huang, Gino, and Galinsky came up with this conclusion after they had experiments which had 56 participants.  They were given the choice to pick several scripts which were either sarcastic, sincere or neutral. After they had chosen one of the scripts, they were instructed to talk to another participant who did not know that they were using a script.

When the subjects finished stating their dialogue, their creativity was assessed by making them go through creative tasks. An example of the creative task assigned to them was to think of a term that was logically connected to three words which they had given the subjects. To illustrate, words such as “tennis”, ‘manners” and “round” would be connected to “table”. Then, the experimenters provided them with a questionnaire regarding the conflict, if any, they experienced during their conversation.

The result of their experiment was that subjects had sarcastic conversations had more issues in their interactions with other participants than the others. The positive side though, is that the pairs that had sarcastic exchanges performed the creative tasks better.  Both the listener and the speaker of the sarcastic dialogue became more creative. However, this benefit of sarcasm could only be felt if the receiver was actually able to detect the sarcasm of the script.

How and When to Use Sarcasm   

Use your sarcastic trait when you have a trusting relationship and it is better spoken directly by mouth than when you write or type what you want to say. / Photo by: Mangostar via Shutterstock


CNBC says that sarcasm should only be used among people with trusting relationships, otherwise, if used between people who have a non-trusting relationship, it could be a source of problems. The researchers elaborate, “While sarcasm in a non-trusting relationship fuels conflict, sarcasm in a trusting relationship is less harmful and may bring individuals together.”  The three authors even recommend sarcasm in the workplace.  

It is also suggested that sarcasm is much better delivered by voice mail than e-mail. As discovered in a study done by two psychologists Jayson Parker and Zhi-Wen Ng, together with their research team, that sarcastic messages received by their study subjects by e-mail tended to be misinterpreted. They were mostly unable to detect or understand the sarcasm of the e-mail. In contrast, participants who were given sarcastic messages by voice mail interpreted them more correctly. They were able to comprehend the sarcasm accurately in the voicemails sent to them.

The Scientific American says that sarcasm should be used sparingly, mindfully and only for those people one is really close to, for it to be effective and not offensive. When sarcasm is used well, it can inspire people’s creativity.



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