The Comprehension of Irony in High and Low Emotional Contexts

Valeria A. Pfeifer, Vicky T. Lai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Verbal irony is when words intend the opposite of their literal meaning. We investigated the emotional function of irony by asking whether irony intensifies or mitigates negative feelings. Experiment 1 used ratings to assess the mental state of a speaker using irony or literal language following a negative event in either a high-or a low-emotional context. We found that regardless of context emotionality, speakers using irony were perceived as being in a less negative and less aroused mental state than speakers using literal language. In Experiment 2, we examined the time course of this process with ERPs. Initially, literal statements elicited a larger N100 than irony, regardless of context emotionality, suggesting that irony mitigates negative feelings overall. Later on, irony elicited a larger LPC than literal statements in high emotion contexts, but not in low emotion contexts. This suggests that irony required more mental state processing or/and more speaker emotion processing than literal language in emotionally loaded situations. These results indicate that whether irony intensifies or mitigates negative feelings depends on context and the point in time at which we assess its function

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-125
Number of pages6
JournalCanadian Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Emotion
  • Erp
  • Figurative language
  • Lpc
  • N100

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'The Comprehension of Irony in High and Low Emotional Contexts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this