The science behind sarcasm:
Different parts of the brain must work together to understand sarcasm, new research suggests.
The prefrontal cortex - a small area in the front of the brain - seems to play the biggest role and may integrate the literal meaning of a phrase with the speaker’s emotional intent. The findings on the anatomy of sarcasm could have implications for understanding personality changes in people with brain injury or disease.
“Decision making, emotional processing, empathy, and theory of mind all appear to be involved in understanding sarcasm,” says lead researcher Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a neuropsychologist at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.
....To determine if participants understood sarcasm, researchers read a sarcastic and non-sarcastic version of a story and asked participants what the speaker meant in each situation. They also tested ‘theory of mind’ - the ability to understand another person’s frame of mind - by determining if people could recognise when a story contained a “social faux-pas”.
Shamay-Tsoory and colleagues found that people with prefrontal damage had trouble recognising sarcasm, while people with damage in posterior brain areas were unaffected. People with damage in the right hemisphere and the prefrontal lobe also had problems understanding the emotional cues involved in processing sarcasm, such as tone of voice or theory of mind, which correlated with their ability to understand sarcasm.