The present study investigated the comprehension processes of verbal irony by clarifying the temporally distinct contributions of three information sources, namely, salience-based lexical meaning, egocentric context, and allocentric Theory of Mind. We predicted that salience-based lexical meaning initially activates the literal representation of an ironic utterance. This is immediately followed by the activation of the ironic representation supported by the automatic interaction between salience-based lexical meaning and egocentric context. Finally, overall interpretation is achieved by incorporating the information from Theory of Mind, which is provided by effortful processing. Salience-based representations are retained rather than suppressed. Cognitive load prevents incorporating the allocentric information given by Theory of Mind, resulting in an egocentric interpretation. The experimental results supported our hypothesis: both ironic representations (Experiment 1) and salience-based literal representations (Experiment 2a) become active early on. Cognitive load prevented the deactivation of unintended ironic representations (Experiment 3) and did not affect the retention of salience-based representations (Experiment 4). Intentional irony required longer reading times than unintentional irony and literal utterances (Experiment 5).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Linguistics and Language