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Individual differences in sarcasm interpretation and use: Evidence from the UK and China

Zhu, Ning; Filik, Ruth


Ning Zhu

Associate Professor


Sarcasm is commonly used in everyday language; however, little is currently known about cultural and individual differences in sarcasm interpretation and use, particularly across Western and Eastern cultures. To address these gaps in the literature, the present study investigated individual differences in sarcasm interpretation and use in the UK and China. Participants first rated literal and sarcastic comments regarding degree of perceived sarcasm, aggression, amusement, and politeness. They then completed tasks which assessed their theory of mind (ToM) ability, perspective taking ability, and sarcasm use tendency. The results showed that UK participants were more sarcastic than Chinese participants. In terms of interpretation, UK participants rated sarcasm as being more amusing and polite than literal criticism, whereas the Chinese data showed that sarcasm was rated as being more amusing but also more aggressive than literal criticism. Theory of mind ability and perspective taking ability positively predicted sarcasm perception in both cultural groups, while the effects of ToM on other rating dimensions varied across cultures. Sarcasm use tendency negatively predicted perception of sarcasm and aggression in UK participants, whereas the opposite was found for Chinese participants. The decomposition of individual difference effects showed that different facets of interpretation and socio-emotional impact of sarcasm are differentially associated with different cultural and individual differences factors. From this, we propose that both cultural and individual differences factors modulate sarcasm interpretation and use: participants from different cultures and with different traits may view sarcasm differently which in turn affects their interpretation and use of sarcastic language.


Zhu, N., & Filik, R. (in press). Individual differences in sarcasm interpretation and use: Evidence from the UK and China. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 27, 2022
Deposit Date Jan 6, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 6, 2023
Print ISSN 0278-7393
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Sarcasm interpretation, sarcasm use, theory of mind, cultural differences, perspective taking
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