Electrophysiological evidence of different interpretative strategies in irony comprehension

Carlos Cornejo, Franco Simonetti, Nerea Aldunate, Agustín Ibáñez, Vladimir López, Lucía Melloni

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44 Scopus citations


We explore the hypothesis that induction of holistic or analytic strategies influences comprehension and processing of highly contextualized expressions of ordinary language, such as irony. Twenty undergraduate students were asked to categorize as coherent or incoherent a group of sentences. Each sentence completed a previous story, so that they could be ironical, literal or nonsensical endings. Participants were asked to evaluate whether each sentence was coherent or incoherent. Half of them were initially instructed to consider whether the sentences made sense (holistic condition); the other half were instructed to consider whether the sentences were congruent or incongruent (analytic condition). Behavioral responses and Event Related Potentials were registered during the experiment. Both behavioral and electrophysiological results allow clearly distinguishing between the holistic and the analytic strategies. The fact that the same set of stimuli elicits different ERP waveforms, depending on the strategy with which they are analyzed, suggests that different cognitive processes and different areas of the brain are operating in each case.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-430
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Analytic strategy
  • Holistic strategy
  • Irony
  • N400
  • P300
  • Pragmatic interpretation


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