Despite being the lingua franca of the Internet, sarcasm isn’t known as a sophisticated form of wit or a conversational style that wins friends. From the Greek and Latin for “to tear flesh,” sarcasm has been called “hostility disguised as humor,” the contempt-laden speech favored by smart alecks and mean girls that’s best to avoid.
But new research by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, Adam Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, and Li Huang of INSEAD, the European business school, finds that sarcasm is far more nuanced, and actually offers some important, overlooked psychological and organizational benefits.
“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. This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking,” said Gino via email.
“Not only did we demonstrate the causal effect of expressing sarcasm on creativity and explore the relational cost sarcasm expressers and recipients have to endure, we also demonstrated, for the first time, the cognitive benefit sarcasm recipients could reap. Additionally, for the first time, our research proposed and has shown that to minimize the relational cost while still benefiting creatively, sarcasm is better used between people who have a trusting relationship,” said Gino...
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