Don't Love Sarcasm? Here's What It Can Predict About Your Brain Health

Not everyone enjoys sarcasm, but the art of being able to say what you want to say without actually saying it has often been lauded. Think of those colleagues, family members, or friends of yours who are experts at delivering the perfect lines at the perfect times. Some might cackle out loud in response, others might return the witty comment with one of their own, and still others might not appreciate the deliverer's mode of delivery. 

Turns out, there's something to be said about your brain health if you don't "get" sarcasm. According to a 2009 study published in the journal NeuroImage, not being able to detect when someone is being sarcastic to you could have an association with neurodegenerative disease, more specifically, frontotemporal dementia, per University of California San Francisco (UCSF). Researchers from UCSF examined the brains of 175 older adults (using an MRI) who viewed visuals of two people talking. One of them used insincere speech or sarcasm on and off. They were asked questions about what they viewed afterward. Some of the subjects were healthy while most of them had neurodegeneration in their brains. 

According to the study's results, those who had neurodegeneration in their frontal lobes found it difficult to differentiate between fact, sarcasm, and lies, while the healthy adults were easily able to do so. Interestingly, the study also noted that participants who had neurodegeneration in other parts of their brain also did better when it came to picking up on sarcasm. 

Your brain's frontal lobe is responsible for higher-order human behavior

This isn't the first study that's looked at the brain's frontal lobe and how damage or neurodegeneration can lead to difficulty in higher-level cognitive functions like self-monitoring your responses and delivering them with intent. This part of the brain is also considered the epicenter of your behavior and emotions (via Queensland Health). 

A 2005 study published in the journal Neuropsychology found a similar association between the inability to notice sarcasm and brain health. Researchers examined 25 subjects with lesions in the prefrontal cortex (a section of the frontal lobe), per American Psychological Association. According to Dr. Sam Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York City, it's not just the ability to pick up on sarcasm that gets affected when this part of the brain is damaged (per Health Day). A person's language comprehension, processing of short-term memory, and "recognition of 'self'" could also be compromised. So can their understanding of social concepts. Add that to the things you never knew about your brain

UCSF neuropsychologist Katherine Rankin, senior author of the dementia study, thinks that studies of this nature could pave the way for identifying early signs when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases (via University of California San Francisco). "If somebody has strange behavior and they stop understanding things like sarcasm and lies, they should see a specialist who can make sure this is not the start of one of these diseases," shared Rankin. 

The relationship between sarcasm and intelligence

Something else being able to deliver and pick up on sarcasm is an indication of is a person's intelligence, according to psycholinguist at the University of Calgary, Penny Pexman (via BBC), who studied sarcasm in teenagers. 

"By around four, children develop the ability to take the perspective of another person and to recognise that the belief someone might hold in their mind is different from their own," explained Pexman. Being able to do the mental work required to decipher the meaning behind a sarcastic comment might actually make our brains sharper, per Psych2Go

Turns out, not engaging in sarcastic banter might be one of those habits that are actually hurting your brain. Does this mean all of us should be honing our witty comebacks or insincere yet creative comments to be ready to benefit us and the people receiving them? Not necessarily. There is an art to sarcasm that experts say is important to understand. Using humor to enhance a conversation instead of purposely trying to hurt someone is a good place to start. And if you do notice someone you love failing to perpetually grasp the beauty in your creative comments, you may want to alert them about the warning signs of dementia we just talked about.