Go Ahead, Wise Guy: Sarcasm Makes People More Creative

It’s science, duh

sarcasm camera
Brian David Stevens/Corbis

Great. Turns out your sarcasm is so creative. No, really — according to new research published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, sarcasm is more nuanced than was once believed. In fact, making sarcastic comments may actually encourage creativity for both the jokester and their audience.

“To create or decode sarcasm, both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction...between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions,” said Francesca Gino, one of the study’s co-authors to Christina Pazzanese for the Harvard Gazette. “This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.”

Participants in the series of studies were randomly assigned to have a conversation that was either sarcastic, sincere, or neutral. After a brief conversation, the participants took a test that measured their creativity. The study found that the people who had sarcastic conversations had more creative solutions to tasks they were given than those who had a nice, sincere chat.

“This suggests that sarcasm has the potential to catalyze creativity in everyone,” said Adam D. Galinsky, another of the study’s co-authors, told Pazzanese.

Galinsky noted that it’s possible that sarcastic people tend to be more creative in general. However, you still might want to refrain from being a jerk to someone you don’t know that well, writes Pazzanese. If the joker doesn’t know the other people he or she is chatting with, they may take offense, causing more harm than the good that comes from the sarcasm’s creative boost. Sadly, there’s no suggestion yet on how to handle that boss who can’t take a joke.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.