Asymmetries in the use of verbal irony


Three experiments assessed four variables that may affect verbal irony processing: people's expectations of events, event outcome, evaluations of outcome, and shared common ground. Reading times and rating tasks were used to quantify the interaction of these factors. The failed expectation hypothesis predicts an interaction of expectation, outcome, and evaluation. In contrast, the expectation irrelevance hypothesis states that expectation does not matter - only interactions between outcome and evaluation should result. The results provide support for the expectation irrelevance hypothesis. There were also consistent common ground effects: Statements directed at high common ground targets were read more quickly and rated as more ironic than statements directed at low common ground targets. These studies also provide online evidence of the asymmetry of affect (positive evaluations of negative outcomes are more ironic than negative evaluations of positive outcomes). Together, these experiments further elucidate the complex pragmatic factors that govern verbal irony comprehension.

Publication Title

Journal of Language and Social Psychology