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Development of Irony Understanding in Typically Developing Children

Schmidt, Liese (2019) Development of Irony Understanding in Typically Developing Children. Master's Thesis / Essay, Human-Machine Communication.


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Verbal irony is a form of non-literal language. The intended message of an ironic utterance is different from its literal meaning. The most common form of irony is ironic criticism; a positive statement is meant to be taken negatively, for example: Jasmin and George are playing catch. Jasmin drops the ball, George says: `You are great at this!'. Previous research shows that the development of irony understanding takes several years. Only when children are around the age of 9, they have reached a full understanding of irony. However, it is still unknown how the development of irony understanding proceeds. Most previous studies on irony used elaborate stories. A disadvantage of elaborate stories is that the participant has to remember everything to answer questions, which requires a lot of cognitive resources. This makes it difficult to test irony understanding, which also requires resources. In this study, we use short video fragments to minimize the cognitive workload. Video fragments including a statement expressing ironic criticism were shown to participants, followed by five questions. Each question addressed a different aspect of irony understanding. In this study 6- to 8-year old children (N=70) and adults (N=16) participated. We found that children are not adult-like in certain aspects of irony understanding. In particular children do not understand the second-order intention of an ironic speaker. The second-order intention of the speaker in the example above was: `George intends Jasmin to believe that she is bad at catching.' From our results it is clear that even 8-year old children can not yet fully understand irony. Furthermore we found that children gave different justifications for speaker's non-literal statements than being ironic. Adults say that the speaker is being ironic, while children say mostly that the speaker means the opposite without mentioning the reason why. Moreover, we did not get better results than previous work that used more cognitively demanding materials. Hence, this study has provided a deeper insight into irony understanding and its development of irony understanding.

Item Type: Thesis (Master's Thesis / Essay)
Supervisor nameSupervisor E mail
Degree programme: Human-Machine Communication
Thesis type: Master's Thesis / Essay
Language: English
Date Deposited: 29 Aug 2019
Last Modified: 29 Aug 2019 14:42

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