Best ways to reply to an insult, according to a neuroscientist

Insults can really sting. In fact, according to neuroscientist Dean Burnett in his latest Science Focus newsletter for the BBC, "criticisms and rejection cause brain activity that feels just like physical pain." One of Dr. Burnett's readers asked him what's the best way to respond to an insult Burnett shared three strategies: diminishing the insulter's power, preventing them from gaining higher status, and allowing the insulted person to maintain control of the situation.

Ascribing category membership to the insulter: This involves placing the insulter in a lower status or easily-ridiculed category, making them seem less credible or fashionable.

From Burnett:

Someone says, "Your haircut looks stupid." You reply, "Okay, calm down grandma." You've put them in the category 'Older, unfashionable, out-of-touch people', which makes them look worse. Especially if they can't possibly be your grandma, because they're a 20-something man. 

Highlight a flaw the insulter reveals about themselves: This strategy involves taking something the insulter implies about themselves in their insult and exaggerating it to make them look foolish.

For instance, imagine you're at a party and someone says, "I can't believe you got invited here." You could reply with, "It must be so confusing for you. Would you like me to draw you a diagram of how social interactions work?"

Turn the insult into a joke: This approach involves accepting the insult and using humor or self-deprecation to defuse its power while maintaining control of the situation.

A classic example would be if the insulter says, "I don't know if you're evil or just stupid." The insultee could respond with, "Why not both?"

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