Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Israeli researchers: Empathetic people understand sarcasm. Yeah, right.

Israeli scientists locate sarcasm in the brain

Don't you just hate it when you delivery a zinging putdown line to some annoying person, and it goes right past them?

Well, it turns out that they're not necessarily dense, or ignoring you. Israeli researcher have discovered that the ability to comprehend sarcasm depends upon a carefully orchestrated sequence of complex cognitive skills based in specific parts of the brain.

The research details an 'anatomy of sarcasm' that explains how the mind puts sharp-tongued words into context. The findings appear in the May issue of Neuropsychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The findings could provide vital clues to the best way of helping people with autism and Asperger's syndrome, as well as those with some forms of brain damage, to improve their communication skills.

Simone Shamay-Tsoory, PhD, and colleagues at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and the University of Haifa who conducted the research explain that for sarcasm to score, listeners must grasp the speaker's intentions in the context of the situation. This calls for sophisticated social thinking and 'theory of mind,' or whether we understand that everyone thinks different thoughts. As an example of what happens when 'theory of mind' is limited or missing, autistic children have problems interpreting irony, the more general category of social communication into which sarcasm falls.

'To detect sarcasm, irony and jokes, and to better understand what people mean when they talk, we must have empathy,' said Shamay-Tsoory.