A study has found that sarcasm—which has gotten a bad rap—can actually boost creativity and cognitive functioning in both the user and receiver, Scientific American reports. Researchers assigned volunteers to take part in simulated dialogues that were either sarcastic, sincere, or neutral, then gave them tasks to test creativity. Those who were involved in sarcastic exchanges did better on the tasks. "The research suggests sarcasm, used with care and in moderation, can be effectively used and trigger some creative sparks," researcher Francesca Gino writes in Scientific American. According to the Harvard Gazette, this is the first time sarcasm has been shown to be beneficial for the recipient.
According to the study, researchers think the reason for the boost in creativity is that sarcasm engages abstract thinking. The brain has to work harder to make the jump between literal and intended meanings when using or listening to sarcasm, Scientific American reports. But people hoping for more creativity should be careful with sarcasm—which the Gazette notes comes from the Greek and Latin for "to tear flesh"—because it can create conflict and hurt relationships. According to the study, people who already trust each other can safely reap the benefits of sarcasm without creating conflict. And the researchers hope organizations and even bosses take note. “Instead of discouraging workplace sarcasm completely ... they could help educate individuals about the appropriate circumstances under which sarcasm can be used," says Gino. (And at least one person thinks it's time to revive sarcasm.)