Processing of written irony in Autism Spectrum Disorder: an eye-movement study

Au Yeung, Sheena, Kaakinen, J.K., Liversedge, Simon Paul orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8579-8546 and Benson, Valerie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0351-4563 (2015) Processing of written irony in Autism Spectrum Disorder: an eye-movement study. Autism Research, 8 (6). pp. 749-760. ISSN 1939-3792

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Previous research has suggested that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have difficulties understanding others communicative intent and with using contextual information to correctly interpret irony. We recorded the eye movements of typically developing (TD) adults ASD adults when they read statements that could either be interpreted as ironic or non-ironic depending on the context of the passage. Participants with ASD performed as well as TD controls in their comprehension accuracy for speaker's statements in both ironic and non-ironic conditions. Eye movement data showed that for both participant groups, total reading times were longer for the critical region containing the speaker's statement and a subsequent sentence restating the context in the ironic condition compared to the non-ironic condition. The results suggest that more effortful processing is required in both ASD and TD participants for ironic compared with literal non-ironic statements, and that individuals with ASD were able to use contextual information to infer a non-literal interpretation of ironic text. Individuals with ASD, however, spent more time overall than TD controls rereading the passages, to a similar degree across both ironic and non-ironic conditions, suggesting that they either take longer to construct a coherent discourse representation of the text, or that they take longer to make the decision that their representation of the text is reasonable based on their knowledge of the world.

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