Memory & Cognition

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 87–105 | Cite as

The role of look-backs in the processing of written sarcasm

  • Henri OlkoniemiEmail author
  • Eerika Johander
  • Johanna K. Kaakinen


Previous eye-tracking studies suggest that when resolving the meaning of sarcastic utterances in a text, readers often initiate fixations that return to the sarcastic utterance from subsequent parts of the text. We used a modified trailing mask paradigm to examine both the role of these look-back fixations in sarcasm comprehension and whether there are individual differences in how readers resolve sarcasm. Sixty-two adult participants read short paragraphs containing either a literal or a sarcastic utterance while their eye movements were recorded. The texts were presented using a modified trailing mask paradigm: sentences were initially masked with a string of x’s and were revealed to the reader one at a time. In the normal reading condition, sentences remained visible on the screen when the reader moved on to the next sentence; in the masked condition, the sentences were replaced with a mask. Individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) and the processing of emotional information were also measured. The results showed that readers adjusted their reading behavior when a mask prevented them from re-examining the text content. Interestingly, the readers’ compensatory strategies depended on spatial WMC. Moreover, the results showed that the ability to process emotional information was related to less processing effort invested in resolving sarcasm. The present study suggests that look-backs are driven by a need to re-examine the text contents but that they are not necessary for the successful comprehension of sarcasm. The strategies used to resolve sarcasm are mediated by individual differences.


Sarcasm Working memory Emotion Eye-tracking Individual differences 



This research was supported by a grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded to Henri Olkoniemi. Portions of the data were reported at the 26th Annual Meeting of the Society for Text & Discourse in Kassel, Germany, in July 2016 and at the Scandinavian Workshop on Applied Eye Tracking, Turku, Finland, in June 2016.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland
  2. 2.Turku Institute for Advanced StudiesUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

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