Comprehension Processes of Verbal Irony: The Effects of Salience, Egocentric Context, and Allocentric Theory of Mind

Yoritaka Akimoto, Shiho Miyazawa, Toshiaki Muramoto

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Citations (Scopus)


    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).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)217-242
    Number of pages26
    JournalMetaphor and Symbol
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jul

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Communication
    • Linguistics and Language


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