Someone's sense of humor is a very personal thing. It's formed over the years, taking influence from the jokes we hear growing up, the shows we watch, our parents' humor, and more. For the more comedically inclined, their senses of humor become a big part of their identity.
It's hard to think that a particular sense of humor could be dangerous, but recent studies have proven that some comedic styles are heavily linked to some more unsavory personality types—the most shocking of which is psychopathy.
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Sarcasm is a modern communication tool like no other. It conveys such a unique feeling, a special manner of speech developed over decades and centuries, a staple in many peoples' sense of humor, and a biting way to joke with those around you.
Everyone partakes in sarcasm from time to time, whether we're wanting to laugh with friends or make a lighthearted jab at someone who's not getting the point. It's a versatile tool, but it has some surprisingly dark ties.
A 2022 study took 715 adults and studied their humor styles, linking these styles back to personality traits identified in each person so they could find correlations between certain humor preferences and broad personality types. One of the humor styles people could say they preferred was sarcasm.
Their findings? Sarcasm is very closely correlated to psychopathy. In fact, it's one of the styles of humor that's most connected to psychopathy.
Psychopathy as a personality type is categorized by a lack of standard emotions, notably things that relate to others, like empathy or remorse. There's also often an element of increased aggression.
Because of this, psychopathy is tied to styles of humor that often involve mockery, something a true psychopath wouldn't feel bad for partaking in, while many people might consider it 'too far.' The other types of humor that were linked to psychopathy included satire and cynicism.
This isn't the first study to make this connection, either. Another one from 2021 linked psychopathy to 'aggressive' forms of humor, categorized again by their lack of empathy but also their egocentrism. This study discussed how psychopaths make use of sarcasm and other related humor styles to make condescending or disparaging jokes with the aim of manipulating others.
Immediate Red Flag?
Psychopathics have also been found to particularly enjoy laughing at other people, namely their pain or shortcomings, which ties into their trademark callous personalities.
Now, of course, not everybody who uses sarcasm is a psychopath. It's very context dependent, so there's no need to be immediately worried if you're someone who enjoys the art of sarcasm.
There's a big difference between using sarcasm every so often as a means of adding some edge to your comedy and using it to be deliberately mean.
Keeping Things Exciting
Sarcasm on its own is fine and innocent, it's when it's consistently used for cruel intentions that it becomes a problem. If you're using sarcasm to belittle or manipulate somebody, you should absolutely be reevaluating your motives, especially if others raise concerns about your comments and behavior.
Psychopaths sometimes also engage in sarcasm as a means of curing boredom. According to the psychopathy checklist created by Dr. Robert Hare, they're very prone to under-stimulation and need to be constantly entertained.
Sarcasm becomes an easy way for psychopaths to engage casually with others in a way where they can subtly manipulate and toy with those around them. This is a form of 'reckless' behavior, which stimulates them and regulates the intense boredom they're often plagued by. They use this boredom as an excuse for a lot of their behaviors.
Some neuroscience-based studies even show that they find causing others pain enjoyable. So, by using sarcasm to demean others, they'll be both engaged and satisfied by their actions.
Author Shahida Arabi collected statements from those who had been in relationships with narcissists and asked about their use of sarcasm as a tool of control.
One person, named Erin, said, "Sarcasm was often used as a subtle way to minimize my feelings or put me down. If I challenged the sarcastic remarks in any way, then I was told that I needed to lighten up and learn to take a joke. This behavior, over time, slowly made me question my own perception, ignore my own feelings, and I even began to believe what he told me (like I can't take a joke, for example).
"It turns out, I actually love joking around. I just don't like manipulation wearing the cowardly disguise of sarcasm or jokes. There is a big difference. Jokes shouldn’t make you feel bad."
From The Get-Go
"Sarcasm and humor are weaponized by them in a multifaceted way. Plausible deniability is one way," said another respondent, Bonnie. "They can say or do something awful, but if it's a joke, you’ll never prove their true intentions. It’s helpful in getting you to doubt yourself, making you feel like a prude or uptight person, someone who’s insecure, not fun, too much trauma in your bag."
A third interviewee, Ozan, also shared their insight and how dangerous sarcasm can be if it starts early. "I think if they start to act sarcastically early, they don't have to understand you, which conveniently serves their self-image. They can just snapshot you and fit you into a stereotype. If you can’t prove otherwise and get frustrated after a while, that just serves to prove their point. So, they start on the sarcasm as early as possible – even in the first day – to protect themselves from reality."
Normal Intentions, Immense Potential
Sarcasm is something that seems so innocent but holds immense power if used to manipulate. It's a covert, sly way to make victims second guess themselves or doubt their feelings, essentially gaslighting them until they really think they're in the wrong. Sarcasm also has the power to be fun, funny, and a great way to forge a bond between friends that proves you all know how to laugh at yourselves.
What matters here is paying attention to how you use it and how others react. If you see people being hurt or are told that you're being mean, maybe take a step back. If everyone's laughing and people appreciate your biting tone, then continue on! As long as you're keeping overall kindness and understanding in the forefront of your mind, placing its importance above your own sense of humor, you'll be fine.
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