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Investigating satirical discourse processing and comprehension: the role of cognitive, demographic, and pragmatic features

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 August 2019

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria University of Wellington


Satire is a subtle type of figurative discourse and is still relatively under-studied from the perspective of figurative language researchers. The purpose of this study is to investigate cognitive, demographic, and pragmatic factors previously suggested to influence satire processing and comprehension but which have yet to be studied using behavioral methods. Specifically, this study examines Need for Cognition (NFC; the desire to engage in cognitively difficult tasks), general knowledge, demographic measures such as language background, and affective perceptions of humor, sincerity, and positivity. Sixty-one participants (32 non-native English speakers) read satirical and non-satirical news reports taken from The Onion and Science Daily, respectively, both published in the United States. Perceptions of sincerity, humor, and positivity, reading times, and written interpretations of the intended meaning for each text were recorded. Results from statistical analyses suggested NFC significantly influenced satirical text reading times. Moreover, language background and perceptions of sincerity significantly influenced satire comprehension. These results highlight an interplay between individual differences during satire processing and comprehension, and work to validate some, but not all, theoretical predictions for satire processing and comprehension.

Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2019 

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