Now Theres a Breakthrough for You: Some People Dont Get Sarcasm

    May 23, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

A ripe and fermented “Duh!” resounded from the labs of Israel’s (wait for it) RAMBAM Medical Center in Haifa upon the release of scientific confirmation of what we already knew. Brain damaged people don’t understand sarcasm.

Simone Shamay-Tsoory, who offers her apologies for the difficulty of her hyphenated and oddly letter blended name (approximately pronounced “tu-sor-ee,” but faster), led a team of colleagues to the findings that the ability to understand sarcasm comes from a complex three-stage process in the prefrontal lobe of the brain.

Writing in the May issue of Neuropsychology, Dr. Shamay-Tsoory said, “the research revealed that areas of the brain that decipher sarcasm and irony also process language, recognize emotions and help us understand social cues.”

The brain processes language in three stages. The language center in the left hemisphere of the brain deduces the literal meaning of words and phrases. Then, processing continues in the frontal lobes and right hemisphere as the brain analyses speaker intent, social and emotional context, and contradictions between literal meanings and the new analysis. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, scientists say, is where the “sarcasm meter” is kept-measuring the various factors of language context.

“Understanding other people’s state of mind and emotions is related to our ability to understand sarcasm,” said Shamay-Tsoory, as reporters chipped a tooth stumbling over the verbal roadblocks in her name.

The study revealed that people with prefrontal lobe damage were especially hard pressed to identify sarcasm. People without brain damage, and some with damage to different parts of the brain were able to pick it out.

The study was conducted with 41 volunteers with mild brain damage and 17 healthy subjects. Actors read short stories to the subjects, some with neutral material and some with sarcastic material. People without brain damage were able to identify the context of phrases like “don’t work too hard” when used to criticize someone for being lazy. Patients with frontal lobe damage were unable to identify anything but the literal sense of the phrase.

I don’t get it.

Researchers say this is an important area of study because it sheds light on understanding emotions-particularly, empathy, which allows for someone to identify with another’s situation.

And then the government pulled their funding.