Sarcasm is often viewed as a low form of wit, but new research published in Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests that it might make you more creative.

Little research has been done on the effects of sarcasm, which is why researchers from a host of top American universities, including Harvard and Columbia, experimented on how sarcastic comments affect creativity. The experiments involved more than 300 men and women whose creativity was tested by completing tasks after saying or receiving sarcastic comments. Another control group of participants was also asked to complete the tasks, although they were told sincere comments. The findings revealed that those who gave and received sarcastic comments were three times more creative than the control group because the sarcasm forced their brains to think abstractly, boosting creativity.

“We found that sarcasm may stimulate creativity, the generation of ideas, insights, or problem solutions that are novel and useful,” Dr. Li Huang, an author of the study and assistant professor of organizational behavior at Insead, a graduate business school, told The Independent. “As Oscar Wilde believed, sarcasm may represent a lower form of wit, but we found that it certainly catalyzes a higher form of thought.”

In one study, after a participant either said or was told a sarcastic comment, they were confronted with a test that measured creativity. They were shown different objects on a table near a wall:  a candle, a box of nails, and a pack of matches. The participants were told to attach the candle to the wall so that it would burn without dropping wax on the table. The right way to do this was to empty out the box of nails, nail the box to the wall, and put the candle in the box.

The results showed that 64 percent of the people who made sarcastic comments were able to find a creative solution and complete the task. But those who were on the receiving end of comments did even better, with a completion rate of 75 percent. These statistics stand in contrast to the control group, in which only 30 percent of participants successfully completed the exercise. Even though participants exposed to sarcasm reported more interpersonal conflict, they were able to demonstrate more creativity in their tasks.

Previous studies have shown that creativity can be unlocked by things that would normally be seen as creativity killers. In an early study in 2015, for example, researchers found that noise can be an untapped source of creativity, providing a distraction for the brain to focus on a particular task. In addition, alcohol is believed to make you more creative because it makes you less focused and frees the brain from the thoughts that occupy it — a more relaxed brain is one that is better able to think creatively.  In this study, it seems the sarcastic comments primed participants to think abstractly, which in turn stimulated their creativity.

“We have shown that creativity is enhanced following all types of sarcasm, from sarcastic anger and criticism to sarcastic compliments and banter,” the researchers said. “All forms of sarcastic exchanges, not just sarcastic anger or criticism, seem to exercise the brain more.”

Source: Huang L, Gino F, Galinsky A, et al. The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 2015.