This story appears in the December issue of VICE magazine.
Who but a group of Ivy League business school professors, behavioral scientists, and PhDs could have figured out that sarcasm could both catalyze creativity and instigate conflict? How clever is it that the title of their recent research paper—"The Highest Form of Intelligence: Sarcasm Increases Creativity for Both Expressers and Recipients"—is a play on the classic idiom "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit"?
In a release published by Harvard, Adam Galinsky, one of the authors, said: "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."
Francesca Gino, another researcher, said: "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."
For the more than 300 participants in the study, some of whom were asked to give and receive either sarcastic or sincere comments before a series of creativity-catalyzing challenges, the only thing more surprising than the solutions to the problems must have been finding out that those using sarcasm were 64 percent more likely to solve them more imaginatively.
Despite the peer-reviewed evidence that "all forms of sarcastic exchanges, not just sarcastic anger or criticism, seem to exercise the brain more," the research suggests that your whetstone-sharpened sarcasm is more likely to offend strangers than someone who has had the privilege of being acquainted with your rapier-like wit.