Ironic and sarcastic comments are used to decrease the perceived threat and to create an atmosphere filled with humor when we criticize someone or something. Thus, sarcasm and irony are ambiguity which means that the speaker is saying something and intend another. It is sort of indirect speech which we use to convey a message.
When it comes to how our minds understand sarcasm and irony, scientists have studied the relation between language and the mind. It is stated that there are parts of the brain that are responsible for interpreting sarcasm and irony. They are the left and right hemispheres of the brain, the frontal lobe and the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex. The literal meaning of any statement is interpreted in the left hemisphere of the brain and the social context is interpreted in the right hemisphere and the frontal lobe. Then, the literal meaning and the social context are combined in the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Afterwards, sarcasm is understood.
Moreover, a research has been done by Simone Shamay-Tsoory and her colleagues, University of Haifa, Psychology department, Israel, to investigate the relation between the brain and sarcasm. The research has included 25 participants who have damage in the prefrontal lobe of the brain, 16 participants with damage in the posterior lobe and 17 healthy participants. All of them listened to a record containing neutral and sarcastic stories. The sarcastic story is ‘Joe came to work and instead of beginning to work, he sat down to rest. His boss noticed his behavior and said ‘do not work too hard’ ‘. The neutral story is ‘Joe came to work and began to work immediately. His boss noticed his behavior and said ‘do not work too hard’ ‘. All the participants understood the difference and recognized the sarcastic comment except those who suffer from damage in the posterior lobe.
According to the research, the damage in the posterior lobe makes it difficult to recognize sarcasm and irony. People with damage in the prefrontal brain only understand the literal meaning.
Another research has been done by Melanie Glenwright and Penny Pexman, University of Manitoba, Psychology department, Canada, regarding the relation between sarcasm and age. Puppets have been used to play different scenarios while children, between six and ten, observe. Each scenario ends with a sarcastic comment and after each show the children have used cartoon faces as a rating scale to indicate their understanding of the comments.
According to the research, children at age six have recognized sarcasm but could not understand the speaker’s intentions. However, children at age ten have managed to understand the speaker’s intentions. Thus, children’s ability to interpret sarcasm is developed over time.
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