Why do people answer sarcastic questions

Sarcasm - the highest form of intelligence?

If you take a break from work and your boss says to you, "Don't overwork yourself", you can assume that he is not really concerned about your well-being, but means the opposite; he's sarcastic. Sarcastic expressions are often used to communicate something to the other person without actually saying it.

Because of the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, sarcasm has great potential for conflict. So far, research has mainly dealt with the mostly negative effect of sarcasm in communication. In recent research, the positive psychological benefits of sarcasm have also been of interest. Oscar Wilde already said: "Sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, but the highest form of intelligence". A research team led by Li Huang has now assumed that sarcasm has beneficial effects on creativity.

But why should sarcasm influence creativity, of all things?
In order for a message to be sarcastic, the actual message must be encrypted. The recipient, on the other hand, has to recognize the true meaning from the sarcastic remark made by the other person. Both have to abstract from what is meant or what is said. Such a capacity for abstraction is generally the basis for finding new solutions and for being creative. The research team therefore suspected that sarcasm triggers abstract thinking, which promotes the creativity of both conversation partners.

Several experiments should test these considerations. For example, some participants had to react to a comment in a simulated conversation - either sarcastically or sincerely or spontaneously with the first answer that occurred to them. In order to imitate both sides in the conversation, other participants should imagine that their counterpart had made this comment sarcastically or sincerely. Then they all worked on a creativity task in which they had to find a word that belonged to a given group of other words. They also stated how much they found the conversation a conflict.

As expected, the simulated conversation was perceived as conflict significantly more often when sarcasm was involved. The researchers' positive assumption was also confirmed: Participants performed significantly better on the creativity task in both roles if they were encouraged to use sarcasm instead of a sincere attitude or a spontaneous reaction.

Further experiments also confirmed that sarcasm increases creativity by promoting abstract thinking. In addition, the research team was able to show that a perceived conflict in a sarcastic conversation was significantly reduced if the conversation presented was a person whom the participants trusted very much.

So using sarcasm in a conversation seems to have positive sides too. Since the basis of trust and the potential for conflict should not be disregarded here, (the correct use of) sarcasm can possibly actually be understood as the highest form of intelligence, as Oscar Wilde was already convinced of it at his time.

Huang, L., Gino, F., & Galinsky, A. D. (2015). The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 131, 162-177. doi: 10.1016 / j.obhdp.2015.07.001

Editing and contact person *: Janin Rössel *, Katrin Bayer

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