University of Oulu

Olkoniemi, H., Halonen, S., Pexman, P. M., & Häikiö, T. (2023). Children’s processing of written irony: An eye-tracking study. Cognition, 238, 105508.

Children’s processing of written irony : an eye-tracking study

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Author: Olkoniemi, Henri1,2; Halonen, Sohvi2; Pexman, Penny M.3;
Organizations: 1Division of Psychology, Faculty of Education and Psychology, University of Oulu, Finland
2Department of Psychology and Speech-Language Pathology, University of Turku, Finland
3Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Canada
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-08-01


Ironic language is challenging for many people to understand, and particularly for children. Comprehending irony is considered a major milestone in children’s development, as it requires inferring the intentions of the person who is being ironic. However, the theories of irony comprehension generally do not address developmental changes, and there are limited data on children’s processing of verbal irony. In the present pre-registered study, we examined, for the first time, how children process and comprehend written irony in comparison to adults. Seventy participants took part in the study (35 10-year-old children and 35 adults). In the experiment, participants read ironic and literal sentences embedded in story contexts while their eye movements were recorded. They also responded to a text memory question and an inference question after each story, and children’s levels of reading skills were measured. Results showed that for both children and adults comprehending written irony was more difficult than for literal texts (the “irony effect”) and was more challenging for children than for adults. Moreover, although children showed longer overall reading times than adults, processing of ironic stories was largely similar between children and adults. One group difference was that for children, more accurate irony comprehension was qualified by faster reading times whereas for adults more accurate irony comprehension involved slower reading times. Interestingly, both age groups were able to adapt to task context and improve their irony processing across trials. These results provide new insights about the costs of irony and development of the ability to overcome them.

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Series: Cognition
ISSN: 0010-0277
ISSN-E: 1873-7838
ISSN-L: 0010-0277
Volume: 238
Article number: 105508
DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2023.105508
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 515 Psychology
3112 Neurosciences
Funding: This study was supported by the Academy of Finland grant #338712 awarded to Henri Olkoniemi.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 338712
Detailed Information: 338712 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2023 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (