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What is the difference between irony and sarcasm? An fMRI study

Filik, Ruth; ?urcan, Alexandra; Ralph-Nearman, Christina; Pitiot, Alain

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Associate Professor

Alexandra ?urcan

Christina Ralph-Nearman

Alain Pitiot


Verbal irony is a figure of speech that communicates the opposite of what is said, while sarcasm is a form of irony that is directed at a person, with the intent to criticise. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with the aim of mapping the neural networks involved in the processing of sarcastic and non-sarcastic irony. Participants read short texts describing an interaction between two characters, which ended in either a literal, sarcastic, or non-sarcastic ironic comment. Results showed that the mentalising network (mPFC) and semantic network (IFG) were more activated for non-sarcastic irony than for literal controls. This would suggest that interpreting this kind of language involves understanding that the speaker does not mean what they literally say, as well as processes involved in conflict detection and resolution. Sarcastic irony recruited more of the semantic network, as well as areas associated with humour appreciation and subcortical structures, indicating that more complex neural mechanisms underlie the comprehension of sarcastic versus non-sarcastic irony.


Filik, R., Țurcan, A., Ralph-Nearman, C., & Pitiot, A. (2019). What is the difference between irony and sarcasm? An fMRI study. Cortex, 115, 112-122.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 22, 2019
Online Publication Date Feb 7, 2019
Publication Date 2019-06
Deposit Date Feb 5, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 8, 2020
Journal Cortex
Print ISSN 0010-9452
Electronic ISSN 1973-8102
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 115
Pages 112-122
Keywords Experimental and Cognitive Psychology; Cognitive Neuroscience; Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: What is the difference between irony and sarcasm? An fMRI study; Journal Title: Cortex; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version:; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Contract Date Feb 5, 2019


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