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Being sarcastic makes you so much better than other people. No seriously, it sort of does. Researchers collaborating across Harvard, Columbia, and INSEAD found that people who were sarcastic or who had people be sarcastic with them were more creative than people who didn’t experience any sarcasm.
And that was any kind of sarcasm: mean sarcasm, gentle sarcasm, and I don’t know, maybe even really dumb and obvious sarcasm like I used to start this video. Oh, I’m sure nobody thought to introduce this news story by employing sarcasm. How clever.
They tested creativity in part by giving subjects a test involving a box of nails, a candle, and a book of matches, asking them how they’d go about securing the candle to the wall and lighting it without wax dripping on the table. According to the study results, about 75% of you should get the solution to this, considering that you’re all so smart and clever, and you’ve already been exposed several times now to my high quality, biting sarcasm.
One fun detail about this study is that the people who benefitted most from the sarcasm were those who were the targets of it, not the originators. So remember that the next time some snot nosed kid says something snarky to you, just relax and whip out your acrylics because shit is about to get Bob Ross up in here.
This study fits in with a long history showing that irony is helpful. In my talk, Laugh Riot, I discuss a few of the ways that humor can be used to influence the public. Irony has a fascinating effect on people, because it forces you to stop and really think about what a person is saying. Because it requires extra processing, that kind of humor can be used, in a way, to distract people, making it so that they have trouble thinking up objections to what you’re saying. That makes it pretty effective as a persuasive tool, but pretty maddening when it’s used against you. That’s why a lot of my fellow atheist friends love seeing South Park address Scientology or Mormonism, but when the atheist episode came around, they noticed that it wasn’t nearly as subtle as they would have liked.
Anyway, these past studies showing that irony and sarcasm require the listener’s brain to work harder support the idea that that extra flexing can get you in the swing of thinking laterally when it comes to puzzles or other forms of creativity. And speaking of that, the solution to the candle problem is to take the box that the nails are in, nail it to the wall, and then put the candle inside it and light it up. Let me know in the comments if you got it right and we’ll see if YouTube commenters are any smarter than psychological test subjects. If you commented before you even got to that point in the video, probably to tell me I’m ugly or ask why I hate men, we’ll know the answer was probably “no”.