Dealing with sarcastic people can be frustrating, to say the least. But a recent study suggests observing sarcasm might actually enhance our ability to think both analytically and creatively Others' anger makes people work harder not smarter: The effect of observing anger and sarcasm on creative and analytic thinking. Miron-Spektor, E., Efrat-Treister, D., Rafaeli, A., et al. The Journal of Applied Psychology. 2011 May 16. So the next time someone makes a sly remark, consider thanking them for the brain boost.

What's the Deal?

In the study, subjects listened to angry, neutral, or sarcastic recordings Others' anger makes people work harder not smarter: The effect of observing anger and sarcasm on creative and analytic thinking. Miron-Spektor, E., Efrat-Treister, D., Rafaeli, A., et al. The Journal of Applied Psychology. 2011 May 16. After listening, the people who listened to the angry-recording beat out the people who listened to the neutral-recording on analytical tests, but their ability to solve complex and creative problems was significantly reduced. But the people who listened to the sarcastic-recording, interestingly enough, outperformed the neutral group in both analytic and creative thinking Others' anger makes people work harder not smarter: The effect of observing anger and sarcasm on creative and analytic thinking. Miron-Spektor, E., Efrat-Treister, D., Rafaeli, A., et al. The Journal of Applied Psychology. 2011 May 16. These results suggest dealing with stress (like an angry voice) forces the brain to focus more attention on problem solving, while deciphering sarcasm does so without reducing our ability to think creatively. It sure seems sarcasm is just the life of this party.

Is It Legit?

While this study focused on the effects of hearing anger in its various forms, it's a much different story when we experience those emotions personally. Another study found that angry people tend to rely on mental shortcuts rather than logical decision making when solving problems, reducing their capacity to make well-informed choices How anger poisons decisions making. Lerner, J.S., Shonk, K. Kennedy School, Harvard University. Harvard Business Review. 2010 Sep;88(9):26. The study also showed that angry people tend to blame others for their obstacles rather than the problems themselves. But for those who commonly project their anger onto others— think of that least-favorite boss— doing so sarcastically might be the more productive way to blow the top.

The Takeaway

While observing anger reduces our ability to solve complex problems, a recent study suggests observing sarcasm can boost both analytic and creative thinking.

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