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Brain Lang. 1996 Apr;53(1):81-104.

Clinical insights into pragmatic theory: frontal lobe deficits and sarcasm.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Australia.


The validity of psycholinguistic theories of sarcasm was explored by examining subjects with mainly frontal lobe (FL) damage and concomitant concreteness of thought. The majority of FL subjects could interpret consistent verbal exchanges but not literally contradictory (sarcastic) verbal exchanges which implied that the literal meaning of a sarcastic comment needs to be rejected in order for the inference to be detected. Subsidiary analyses confirmed that failure on sarcasm tasks was associated with poor conceptual skills. Ability to process attitude was not associated with success at recognizing sarcasm. This suggested that attitude is not pivotal to the detection of sarcastic inference.

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