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The lowest form of wit? Study finds sarcastic people are brighter and more creative


It's commonly known as the lowest form of wit.

One author even scathingly refers to it as "the last refuge of the imaginatively bankrupt".

But for the Chandlers of this world who like to pepper their linguistic arsenal with a fair spray of sarcasm now and again, fear not.

A new study has found that the time-honoured mechanism of verbal irony actually helps people to become brighter and more creative.

Researchers from leading US universities Harvard and Columbia ran a series of experiments among more than 300 men and women to see how sarcastic comments (i.e. comments that deliberately state the opposite of the truth to get a laugh or make a point) affect our engagement and ability to think laterally.

In the results, published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes this week, they found that people who made sarcastic comments - and those on the receiving end of them - were up to three times more creative than their straight-playing counterparts.

This is because making and understanding sarcastic comments forces us to think more abstractly, which stimulates creativity, openness and the generation of novel ideas and new ways of problem-solving. 

"We found that sarcasm may stimulate creativity, the generation of ideas, insights, or problem solutions that are novel and useful," said Dr Li Huang, leading the research. "As Oscar Wilde believed, sarcasm may represent a lower form of wit, but we found that it certainly catalyses a higher form of thought."

One of the tests the team ran involved subjects being exposed to a sarcastic or a sincere comment, before tackling a psychological test involving creativity. 

Seventy five percent of those who had been the victim of sarcastic comments beforehand came up with the right solution, compared with 25 percent who had been exposed to sincere comments.

Among those who had made sarcastic comments, 64 percent found the correct solution, compared with 30 percent who had made sincere comments. 

The task in question involved working out how to attach a candle to the wall so that it would burn without it dripping wax on the table. The solution involved emptying a box of nails and putting the candle in it, before nailing it to the wall; a thought process that involves lateral thinking because it is not the primary purpose for the box.

What's more, it doesn't really matter what kind of tone you use in making the sarcastic comment; whether it comes from a jokey, angry or even a bitter place.

"We have shown that creativity is enhanced following all types of sarcasm, from sarcastic anger and criticism to sarcastic compliments and banter," the researchers said. "All forms of sarcastic exchanges, not just sarcastic anger or criticism, seem to exercise the brain more."

Sounds good to us.

Now if you'll excuse us, we're off to channel our inner Chandlers...



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