Remember that song that began “Do you like Pina Coladas…”? If you’re looking for someone who thinks like you do, instead of matching up on sweet cocktails, try seeking out dates who have a similar bent pro or con metaphors and sarcasm. Let’s say you have a quarrel at breakfast and your partner says, “The red rose of our love is droopy this morning.” If you’re laughing, you may have your match.
Psychologists now have evidence to back up the common idea that the poetically-minded are different than the rest of us, more empathic and suggestible. But contrary to the rule that sarcasm is rude and makes everyone angrier, there’s some evidence that sarcasm can spur thinking and possibly even defuse conflict.
Metaphors generally substitute a concrete image that you can see, touch, smell, hear, or taste for something abstract, as in “My love is a red rose.” Poets love metaphor. On the other hand, lots of people don’t understand metaphors or find them annoying. A research team led by psychologist Adam Fetterman, PhD, which developed the first standardized test of your preference for metaphor, found these big differences in our taste for metaphor.
The study also concluded that the metaphorically-minded aren’t more or less intelligent or capable of summoning up images. Instead, working with a new group of students, the team discovered that people who liked metaphor are more suggestible. For example, most people rate neutral words as more pleasant if they see them in a white font rather than a black one, but people who dislike or avoid metaphor don’t care about the font color. On the other hand, people who like metaphor have a stronger preference for white fonts.
In another, real-world, study, people who tended to be more agreeable when they ate sweet food were also metaphorically-minded.
Good metaphors make complex ideas, and often emotions, more understandable. In other research, people who enjoy and use metaphor proved to be better at judging emotions in others.
In yet another study, scientists demonstrated what poets and poetry-readers have known for centuries: metaphorical language can make painful emotion more bearable. When 50 participants spent 5 minutes daily for a week writing about unpleasant feelings, using either metaphors such as “I felt like a leaf in the wind” or common psychological language, such as “I felt unfocused," only the people who used the metaphors tended to feel better at the end of the week. Take this as your cue to embrace the desire to write lovesick poetry after your next breakup. You might also focus on being kind to yourself, rather than catalog your failings and screw-ups.
Making sarcastic jokes about your ex also might be a good idea. According to research from Harvard Business School that dubs sarcasm “the highest form of intelligence,” "The construction and interpretation of sarcasm lead to greater creativity because they activate abstract thinking." The same study concluded that expressing sarcasm (or being on the receiving end) may actually be useful at defusing conflict while making you both more creative.
Try that when you’re facing your ex at a divorce mediator’s office. Also consider throwing in some metaphor, if your ex was metaphor-minded, so as to stimulate his or her empathic and suggestible side. Maybe “The red rose of our love is awfully droopy this morning” would make her laugh, or cry, remembering the lover’s quarrel of long ago. Or maybe she’ll knock over your coffee and storm out.
January 29, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN