Well, Duh: Why Sarcastic People Are Actually Proven To Be Smarter

by Dan Scotti

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been called a “smart ass” over my 22 years of existence, I’d probably be sipping montrachet off the coast of Saint-Tropez right now, instead of writing this piece.

That title never really offended me, though; I’m a sarcastic piece of sh*t, I say it proudly [cue B-Rabbit voice]. That’s just how I was brought up. Not to mention I’ve been called worse things, and quite frankly, “smart ass” sort of has a ring to it.

It also might be dead on balls accurate [cue Mona Lisa Vito voice]. According to Smithsonian Mag, generally speaking, we “smart asses” ARE, in fact, scientifically smarter. Oh, the irony.

How is sarcasm linked with intelligence, you might ask? Well, think about it like this: Sarcasm, in its rawest form, is stating one thing, but truly implying something else.

Typically the opposite. For instance, the first time I listened through Yeezus in full, I remember thinking to myself: “Well, Kanye’s humble.”

Obviously, I was being sarcastic. In actuality, Kanye West’s ego has been fed so thoroughly over the past couple of years – you would think it just tried the Paleo Diet and relapsed.

Having said that, the irony of sarcastic statements provokes emotion – and as the vocal sample in "Bound 2" faded out – my buddy and I shared a laugh thinking about “Kanye” and the word “humble” being used in the same sentence.

See, that’s how sarcasm works, and why it’s correlated with intellect. It’s a two-step process. To use, and detect, sarcasm, you need to grasp not just the scenario in front of you – but also aspects of that scenario that might be lacking.

As Richard Chin of Smithsonian writes, sarcasm requires a series of “mental gymnastics.” Sarcastic, satirical or ironic statements all compel the brain to “think beyond the literal meaning of the words and understand that the speaker may be thinking of something entirely different.”

Thus, in a way, sarcasm forces us to think one step ahead – a notion that science defends. In one experiment, by attaching electrodes to the brain and monitoring their activity (in response to sarcastic and non-sarcastic statements), electrical activity levels were increased when test subjects were exposed to sarcasm.

Over time, this increased bulk of cognitive-expenditure doesn’t go to waste. Chin describes active sarcasm use as a means of “mental exercise,” which is useful because it provides us with an illusory comparison.

Think about abdominal crunches. If you do a few sets of 100 each night, over time, your core is bound to be toned. Sarcasm, as a form of “mental exercise,” functions the same way. Over time, that “extra work” brought forth by sarcasm leaves our brains toned, too.

As you can see, it’s by no accident that Dwight Schrute sits atop the ranks of salesmen, as top dawg at Dunder Mifflin. And as for the failures of a one George Costanza – well, like with all things, there are exceptions.

For the most part, however, sarcasm is not only linked to intelligence – but also to aggression. In a separate study, conducted by cognitive psychologist Albert Katz at the University of Western Ontario, those more “fluent” in sarcasm also scored higher on aggression tests.

As Katz suggests, one reason behind this finding is that aggressive people can “decode” that two-step process of sarcasm-perception, more quickly. Still, while these findings might encourage you to add a little (or a lot of) snark to your daily interactions, I suggest doing so with caution.

While you may think you’re being clever, there’s a good chance you might end up being the only one laughing. That’s the risk you take every time you decide to speak tongue-in-cheek.

For that reason, always substantiate the “sarcasm-gauge” of those around you. As much as sarcasm is linked with, and can be easily detected by, smart people – keep in mind, the world is full of stupid people who won’t always appreciate your snide quips.

I, for one, will always appreciate your sarcasm – and, moreover, commend you for it. Not only are you providing humor to the “smart asses” around you, but you’re also doing mental calisthenics for yourself. Please, don’t ever change.

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