For anyone who's been told they need to tone down the sarcasm, science is finally on your side. New research from scientists at Columbia Business School, Harvard University, and the European business school INSEAD, shows that sarcasm might just benefit everyone in the workplace, offering a little boost in creativity.
To support the idea that sarcastic friends are great to have during a brainstorm, scientists put participants through several experiments. In one, they divided participants into three groups: In the first, participants either gave or received sarcastic remarks, in the second, participants gave and received sincere remarks, and the third was a control group with neutral conversation. After each simulated dialog, participants were asked to link like words together in the Remote Association Task (RAT), which is one of the most widely-used creativity tasks in research. They were given three words—such as "manners, round, and tennis"—and asked to come up with a word that linked the three (in this case, "table").
In another experiment, participants were asked to recall memories regarding sarcasm or sincerity, and then faced with the Duncker Candle Problem, where they had to figure out how to attach a candle to the wall using only a candle, a pack of matches, and a box of tacks. In every experiment, scientists saw a common theme: Those who were faced with sarcasm before the tasks were more creative. This held true whether participants were speaking sarcastically, or being spoken to sarcastically.
“To create or decode sarcasm, both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction (i.e., psychological distance) between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions," one of the lead study authors Francesca Gino said in a statement. "This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.”
To be fair, the researchers also found that sarcasm bred some conflict between certain study participants. But they saw something interesting—if there was trust, sarcasm wasn't an issue.
“While most previous research seems to suggest that sarcasm is detrimental to effective communication because it is perceived to be more contemptuous than sincerity, we found that, unlike sarcasm between parties who distrust each other, sarcasm between individuals who share a trusting relationship does not generate more contempt than sincerity,” study author Adam Galinsky said in the statement. The findings will be published in the journal Organizational behavior and Human Decision Processes.
Now if only someone would develop a sarcasm font, so those creative-minded folks could send emails without worry of being misinterpreted.