Scientists have discovered that sarcasm not only enhances your chances of survival, but makes you smarter too. Real cool, guys.

Scientists have discovered that sarcasm not only enhances your chances of survival, but makes you smarter too. Real cool, guys.

For the past 20 years, researchers have been trying to understand how our ability to understand sarcasm influences how the mind works. As it turns out, a slew of studies have shown that exposure to sarcasm enhances creative problem solving, enhances the chance of survival by demonstrating superiority and also helps your wolfpack identify your upcoming wrestle with Alzheimer's disease.

But more than anything, sarcasm detection is a vital life skill you need to function in today's society. Without the ability to understand the difference between "Thank you" and "Thank yewww," you're pretty much good as dead.

“Our culture in particular is permeated with sarcasm,” says Katherine Rankin, a neuropsychologist at the University of California at San Francisco. “People who don’t understand sarcasm are immediately noticed. They’re not getting it. They’re not socially adept.”

Sarcasm is so prevalent and important that, according to one study of a database of telephone conversations, 23 percent of the time that the phrase “yeah, right” was used, it was uttered sarcastically.

And, as you know, entire phrases can lose their literal meanings when they're uttered with a sneer. “Big deal,” is a good example. When’s the last time someone said that to you and meant it sincerely?

“My heart bleeds for you."

… "Big deal."

Yeah, not a thing.

“It’s practically the primary language in modern society," says John Haiman, a linguist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the author of Talk is Cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation and the Evolution of Language. An inability to understand it only points out your weakness to others, who get the subconscious download to never raise your children. People who can understand it, on the other hand, demonstrate social superiority and are therefore bangable to the nth degree.

So, given it's prevalence, it's no wonder it has an inherent, largely unconscious benefit to us.

On a more micro-level, sarcasm works out the brain more than sincere statements do; it keeps you on your toes, like a jogger stopped at a stoplight who looks like a douche to everyone but it doesn't matter because they have abs and you don't. Scientists who have monitored the electrical activity of the brains of test subjects exposed to sarcastic statements have actually found that brains use more energy and make more connections in the face of sarcasm; it's like Brazil Butt Lift for your cerebral cortex.

Another study conducted on Israeli college students showed that when they listened to complaints on a customer service hotline, they were better able to solve problems creatively when the complaints were sarcastic as opposed to just plain angry. Sarcasm “appears to stimulate complex thinking and to attenuate the otherwise negative effects of anger,” according to the study authors.

And this constant beefing up of the brain can ward off neurological disease. Studies have shown that an inability to recognize irony can be indicative of a host of brain conditions like Alzheimer's, brain cancer, and dementia. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, for example, recently found that people with frontotemporal dementia have difficulty detecting sarcasm. The same Katherine Rankin from above has suggested that a loss of the ability to pick up on sarcasm could be used as an early warning sign to help diagnose the disease. “If someone who has the sensitivity loses it, that’s a bad sign,” Rankin says.

Does this mean that people who think Stephen Colbert is truly right wing or that people like a certain North Korean dictator who thinks "The Interview" is an earnest attempt at international threat are mentally handicapped?

… Yes. And unfit to reproduce.

Other researchers have found that the mocking, smug, superior nature of sarcasm is perceived as more hurtful than a plain-spoken criticism. This dog-eat-dog sarcastic commentary is just part of our quest to be cool. “You’re distancing yourself, you’re making yourself superior,” Haiman says. “If you’re sincere all the time, you seem naive.” Again, cool people get laid and carry on their genetic lineage. Cool = survival.

Lastly, sarcasm is also used to communicate feelings when literal statements seem inappropriate, and can be used to facilitate social bonding. When things go sour a sarcastic comment is a way to simultaneously express our expectation as well as our disappointment. When a hurricane spoils your sex on the beach session and you say, “We really picked the right spot for this," you’re saying both that you had hoped there would be no cockblocking hurricanes and that you're upset they're a tsunami in your vagina. Saying "I really wish there was not a hurricane interrupting our love right now yet there seems to be" is just an obvious statement of something people already know, which makes you seem like you lick windows.

Of course, there are gendered and regional variations in sarcasm. One study probed this by comparing college students from upstate New York with students from near Memphis, Tennessee and found that the Northerners were more likely to suggest sarcastic quips when asked to fill in the dialogue in a hypothetical conversation.

Northerners also were more likely to understand sarcasm: 56 percent of Northerners found sarcasm humorous while only 35 percent of Southerners did. The New Yorkers and male students from either location were more likely to describe themselves as sarcastic.

Lesson learned: never tell a Southern girl she looks stunning after the car accident.