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Brain Lang. 2010 Apr;113(1):1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2009.11.007. Epub 2010 Jan 13.

Neural correlates of irony comprehension: the role of schizotypal personality traits.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Tuebingen, Osianderstrasse 26, Tuebingen, Germany.


To detect that a conversational turn is intended to be ironic is a difficult challenge in everyday language comprehension. Most authors suggested a theory of mind deficit is crucial for irony comprehension deficits in psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia; however, the underlying pathophysiology and neurobiology are unknown and recent research highlights the possible role of language comprehension abnormalities. Fifteen female right-handed subjects completed personality testing as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and neuropsychology. Subjects were recruited from the general population. No subject had a lifetime history of relevant psychiatric disorder; however, subjects differed in their score on the German version of the schizotypal personality questionnaire (SPQ). During fMRI scans, the subjects silently read 44 short text vignettes that ended in either an ironic or a literal statement. Imaging was performed using a 3 T Siemens scanner. The influence of schizotypy on brain activation was investigated by using an SPM5 regression analysis with the SPQ total score and the SPQ cognitive-perceptual score as regressors. Reading ironic in contrast to literal sentences activated a bilateral network including left medial prefrontal and left inferior parietal gyri. During reading of ironic sentences, brain activation in the middle temporal gyrus of both hemispheres showed a significant negative association with the SPQ total score and the SPQ cognitive-perceptual score. Significant positive correlation with the SPQ total score was present in the left inferior frontal gyrus. We conclude schizotypal personality traits are associated with a dysfunctional lateral temporal language rather than a theory of mind network.

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