Sarcasm is a gift that keeps on giving. Although not everyone is a fan of it. And I get it. Misunderstandings are common in sarcastic jokes, and if a person doesn’t figure out their tone when saying literally the opposite of what they mean, they may be the only one laughing.

Luckily, the internet is fueled by memes, the badass cousins of an IRL sarcastic joke, where references are subtle, puns are over the top, the relatable situations in question are many times worse, and the tagline doesn’t match the image. But it’s a quintessential form of online social interaction, and the virtual world would be a much blanker place without ‘em.

The Instagram page that has a whopping, pull your seat closer, 9.6 million followers, called Sarcastic_us combines them both: sarcasm and memes in hilariously relatable posts. From its sheer popularity, we can conclude this is exactly what people are looking for in social media entertainment, so I just leave the stage to it right here.

Let’s face the obvious: not everyone gets sarcasm, which is a quintessential part of any joke whether posted online or told face-to-face at a dinner table. In fact, it is so prevalent that not understanding it makes you stand out. In fact, a lack of sarcasm is often one of the most common characteristics of struggling with an autism diagnosis along with things such as social and communication issues, difficulties reading body language, using different tones in their voices, and many more. 

Francis Merson, clinical psychologist and founder of the Paris Psychology Centre, told Bored Panda that while definitions vary, sarcasm is generally understood as making statements whose surface meaning expresses the opposite of the intended meaning, often with humorous or mocking intent. "Sarcasm is an important social skill, which can be deployed for good or evil. It can be used to make fun of someone, like when you say 'nice hairdo' to someone who has just stepped off a rollercoaster," he said.

Moreover, the clinical psychologist argues that it can also promote social bonds by making light of shared experiences, "such as leaving an unpleasant death metal concert and remarking to a friend, 'Well, wasn't that lovely!'"

Interestingly, sarcasm appears to exist in some form or other in all human cultures – from Europe to the Amazon, Merson told us. "There might be variation in how sarcasm is signaled, or whether it's socially acceptable, but otherwise it seems to be a natural part of human communication."Not understanding sarcasm can often be diagnostic of a neurodevelopmental disorder, such as autism, Merson explained.

"Indeed, the social skills training for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum usually involves learning to recognize and respond to sarcasm." Moreover, "The loss of ability to understand sarcasm can also be a sign of certain forms of dementia. So if your grandpa suddenly starts taking all your jokes literally, it could be worth getting this checked out," the clinical psychologist warned.

Incredibly, studies have also found that people who are sarcastic tend to be more intelligent and creative. Merson said that "this also makes sense theoretically, as sarcasm relies on means being able to express and understand subtle shades of tone and layers of meaning. There's a reason why Oscar Wilde said that 'Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.'"

The clinical psychologist concluded that "it's a very easy kind of humor to use, but you need a certain amount of brainpower to use it in the first place."

It's no secret that sarcasm plays a quintessential joke in telling and understanding jokes. So to find out more about it, we also spoke with Paige Davis, the Senior Lecturer at York St John University who specializes in Developmental Psychopathology and Developmental Psychology. “The thing is, even babies pick up on social cues,” Davis said. “If you've ever seen a baby start to join in laughing when everyone is laughing you will know this, so even if they may not understand the meaning of a joke, they will understand that the atmosphere in the room has changed and everyone is laughing.”

Therefore, a sense of humor will develop along with social understanding, the professor argues. “This is when we learn we are social beings in a world of other social agents. Non-verbal humor is usually developed first, so an example of this is when my youngest son had been walking for a bit (15m). If he ran into something, my partner would pretend to run into it as well and pretend to get hurt and he would begin to laugh. He had begun to understand a few things in this interaction. 1) Daddy was mimicking him, 2) Daddy wasn't really hurt, he was pretending. He knew this because of some cues e.g. Daddy was smiling.”

Davis explained that pretend play evolves around 18 months, “so this is the beginning of being able to pretend things are different from reality. Linguistic jokes take a lot longer to understand.” The professor argues that the first thing it takes to get a joke is the ability to understand language. But this alone, though, is not enough. “For a joke to be funny, the person who is listening needs some higher-level cognitive skills, so to be able to think flexibly, understand that there are double meanings for things, and in many cases, the person needs an understanding of how their social world works.”

“A study just published this month looked at practical jokes and found that there was a relationship between age, false belief understanding (the ability to understand someone can hold a belief that is false while another person knows the truth), inhibitory control (so being able to control your actions or inhibit thoughts or actions that you would want to do), and language ability relate to the ability to understand and engage in practical jokes (Wang & Wang, 2021).” Moreover, siblings also make a child more likely to get a joke, Davis added. “It takes a lot of cognitive skills to be able to get a joke,” she stated.

When asked if jokes could tell us something about our personalities, Davis said that this goes back to the old born with it or blank slate argument. “So are we born with this personality that develops and therefore we are geared toward certain types of jokes? What I would argue is that life experience and social interaction will intimately shape how we respond to jokes and what jokes we like later,” the professor said.

“I'm a Vygotskian and what Vygotsky theorized was that when we learn words we associate other words and feelings with the word we are learning, so this would mean that certain jokes would be more funny to a person because they would be associated with that person's experiences,” Davis explained. “So words or scenarios that are more familiar or meaningful to a person will resonate more with them. It might not tell us about personalities, but it certainly tells us about experiences,” she concluded

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See Also on Bored Panda
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