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You say something you don't literally mean, and the hearer only understands if they get that you're insincere. The ability to recognize sarcasm is an essential skill to function in a modern society that thrives on irony.
Entire phrases have lost their literal meaning because they are so frequently used with a sneer. For example, "big deal", or "tell it to someone who cares," and "aren't you special" means you aren't.
Studies revealed that exposure to sarcasm enhances problem-solving. It appears to stimulate complex thinking.
Sarcasm also requires the brain to work harder, making it sharper. To perceive sarcasm, a person has to see beyond the literal meaning of the words and understand that the speaker may be thinking of something entirely different.
Sarcasm has a two-faced quality: it's funny and mean.
Some language experts suggest sarcasm is a gentler way to criticize with indirectness. "How do you keep this room so neat?" Other researchers have found the mocking nature of sarcasm as more hurtful than plain-spoken criticism.
Not everyone thinks sarcasm is funny. There is also not just one way to be sarcastic. Sarcasm can be implied with pitch, tone, volume, pauses, duration, and punctuation.
Facial expressions can also indicate sarcasm. Expressions around the mouth, instead of the eyes, were most often cited as a clue to a sarcastic statement.
The inability to understand sarcasm may be a warning sign of brain conditions.
Scientists found that autism, closed head injuries, brain lesions, and schizophrenia can interfere with the ability to understand sarcasm. People with frontotemporal dementia have difficulty detecting sarcasm. The loss of the ability to pick up on sarcasm could be used as an early warning signal to diagnose the disease.
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