I grew up a chubby, freckle-faced redhead, so naturally I developed my brand of sarcastic humor quite early in life. Some might say it was a defense mechanism, but those idiots don’t understand that sarcasm is actually a sign of intelligence.
In reality, I was a child with superior brain power who just happened to be big boned. It’s not my fault the dad bod didn’t catch on until the 21st century. I was ahead of the curve both physically and cognitively, but science and pop culture would reserve my vindication until long after I had lost the popularity contests of my youth. Oh well, I can’t imagine the beautiful morons from high school had that much fun partying and making out with each other. Not my fault they didn’t get me.
Today, science is on my side, and nothing makes you cooler than science. Thanks to some recent research over the past decade or two, we now know for certain that sarcasm is the best and anyone who’s too slow to keep up is just that… slow. If you’re in that camp, wipe up the drool puddle, re-read the opening and then continue at your own pace. For the big brained (big boned optional), feel free to plow ahead as I reveal a few of the key findings that connect sarcastic wit to intelligence, creativity, and even emotional well-being.
Sarcasm Linked to Brain Health
A little sarcasm goes a long way when it comes to cognitive function (that’s a fancy way of saying “brain health” for all you straight shooters). Researchers came to this conclusion when they discovered that the converse is true—an inability to recognize sarcasm could be a sign of cognitive impairment or even dementia.
A neuropsychologist named Katherine P. Rankin used MRI technology to locate the part of the brain that detects sarcasm. Turns out, it’s an area heavily impacted by certain forms of dementia where patients lose the ability to pick up on social cues, both verbal and visual.
Families of those suffering from dementia have long reported significant changes in personality of their afflicted loved ones. Without the ability to perceive and process sarcastic or humorous communication, science now has an explanation for such personality changes in dementia patients.
Friends, family… the minute you see a blank stare on my face after someone dishes out a classically dry one-liner, check me in, because I’ve checked out.
Sarcasm Breeds Creativity
I don’t normally consider myself creative. It’s not like writing a blog, playing the piano, raising another redhead, being great at golf, or coaching high schoolers requires any creativity. It all just comes naturally to me. What I never understood is that my sarcastic side feeds my creativity… and it does so without having to be all show-boaty about it.
A joint study conducted by researchers from two little-known universities (Harvard and Columbia) found that sarcastic language inspired creative thinking in both those who dished out the cunning remarks, as well as those who simply listened in. Further, the researchers discovered that sarcasm also fostered abstract thinking, which, if you haven’t LOL’d at least once by now, is something you’ve likely never dabbled in.
Here I thought sarcasm was only the way in which I coped with the challenges of writing, parenting, artistifying, competing, and coaching. I guess it’s the very thing that makes me so awesome at it all. (Yes, I made up the word artistifying… how GD creative am I?)
Sarcasm Lets You Be a Jerk Without Getting in Trouble
“Sarcastic statements are sort of a true lie,” writer Richard Chin said in his November, 2011 Smithsonian article about the science behind sarcasm. “You’re saying something you don’t literally mean, and the communication works as intended only if your listener gets that you’re insincere. Sarcasm has a two-faced quality: it’s both funny and mean. This dual nature has led to contradictory theories on why we use it. Some language experts suggest sarcasm is used as a sort of gentler insult, a way to tone down criticism with indirectness and humor.”
In other words, thanks to sarcasm I can tell my swimmer Hey, great job on those underwaters, kid… few people can kick underwater and breath at the same time without directly ridiculing him for breathing on a set that’s clearly designed for him to hold his breath. Only a jerk would be so callous.