Shy individuals’ interpretations of counterfactual verbal irony
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Counterfactual verbal irony, an evaluative form of figurative language wherein a speaker’s intended meaning is opposite to the literal meaning of his or her words, is used to serve many social goals. Despite recent calls for theoretical accounts to include the factors that influence irony interpretation, few studies have examined the individual differences that may impact verbal irony interpretation. The present study examined whether adults with elevated shyness would generate more negative interpretations of ironic statements. University students with varying degrees of shyness listened to stories (accompanied by comics) wherein one character made literal or ironic criticisms or compliments to another character. Participants then appraised each speaker’s belief and attitude. Self-reported shyness did not predict comprehension of the counterfactual nature of ironic statements. However, shyer adults rated speakers who made ironic compliments as being meaner than did adults low in shyness. Thus, while understanding that ironic speakers intended to communicate their true beliefs, shyer individuals construed the social meaning of irony more negatively. Such interpretive biases may lead shy individuals to more frequently take offense at ironic compliments and experience more negativity in social interactions.
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Tracy A. Mewhort-Buist, Elizabeth S. Nilsen (2017). Shy individuals’ interpretations of counterfactual verbal irony. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17450