Have you ever hurled a sarcastic bomb at your male significant other and then been dumbfounded as he received the comment in utter sincerity?
Of course you have. It’s a cruel, cruel world that we live in.
Perhaps you told him you’d love to spend the weekend with his family and he smiled and proceeded to book train tickets. Maybe you asked him why he didn’t just go the whole hog and eat all of the pizza, and then watched in amazement as he did just that (well, he might have been onto you that time, but bear with me).
He’s not just a bundle of positivity (phew) and you’re not losing your powers of mockery. It turns out, men are just not so hot at detecting sarcasm. A new paper published in PLOS One has suggested that men, along with those suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism, simply struggle to pick up on white lies, teasing and, you guessed it, sarcasm.
In the study, a group of healthy participants were shown videos which depicted four actors interacting in different relationships, as romantic partners, friends, and as bosses or employees. They tested to see if the subjects could decipher the speaker’s intentions and gained feedback about exactly which cues – vocal or facial – helped them to suss it out.
The outcome of all this? Sarcasm is hard to identify (no, that’s not me being sarcastic. It really is tricky). And it’s particularly hard to distinguish among men.
It all comes down to a truth bias, whereby men tend to believe that for the most part people are telling the truth. Being sarcastic or telling tiny un-truths go against a basic understanding of what should be happening in a conversation for you honest guys –extrapolate from that what you will (Women? Liars? Never).
For those of you mystified, as you recall all the times your guy friends complimented you on a ‘nice hair cut’, when you knew that they were just pulling your leg – you’re not losing it. Chances are, you are pretty good at knowing when your bro’s are insulting you, no matter how sweetly they deliver it. Men in the study were better at recognising sarcasm when it was presented to them in relationships between pals.
And menfolk, before you shrug and tell us that you don’t care, let us cast your minds back. In the summer we told you that sarcasm is actually good for you, as a Harvard study found that it increases creativity for not just the giver of contempt, but also the receiver.
In other words, it’s definitely in your best interests to be able to not just dish it out, but also to take it, in order to reap the psychological benefits of sarcasm.
So in the spirit of keeping the creativity flowing, start assuming that every compliment, statement, or ‘fact’ that’s told to you is meant sarcastically. You will in no way seem like a complete and utter cynic.