Sarcasm is generally considered to be an undesirable trait. Most people tend to distance themselves from it because of its supposed correlation to unfriendliness and negativity, but recent research shows that sarcasm can actually be a strong indicator of intellect.
According to study in Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, sarcasm is the highest form of intelligence. While sarcasm is an instigator of conflict, it was also found to be a catalyst for creativity through abstract thinking for both the expressers and the recipients.
Researchers Huang, Gino and Galinsky conducted four experiments where they manipulated sarcasm via a simulated conversation task and recall task:
The first two experiments showed that, despite more reported conflict, both expressers and recipients exhibited enhanced creativity right after engaging in sarcasm and after recalling a sarcastic exchange.
The third experiment determined that sarcasm's effect on creativity for both parties was arbitrated by abstract thinking.
The fourth experiment found that participants who expressed or received sarcasm from someone they trusted experienced gains in creativity without any increase in conflict.
Overall, sarcasm was found to have significant potential for improving creativity, so long as it was employed in a way that did not increase conflict. In another analysis by Harvard and Columbia researchers, there are three reasons why sarcastic people are highly intelligent:
1. They have to think harder
Sarcasm requires much more thought. When we try to think of a sarcastic response, our brain has to use extra effort to formulate an answer that isn't straightforward and has an extra layer. In effect, the recipient also benefits, as they must think harder to understand the true intent of the sarcasm.
2. They recognize more opportunities
Sarcasm opens the mind the more possibilities. Researchers found that expressers and recipients of sarcasm performed three times better on creative tests. This may have something to do with the fact that exposure to sarcasm can exercise the brain's ability to think outside the box.
3. They are able to think abstractly
Sarcasm is linked to abstract thinking, which has long been linked to higher intelligence. In fact, our ability to think abstractly is what separates us from animals. When carried out positively, sarcasm can reduce stress and even increase productivity.