According to a new study in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, it is easier for children to recognize sarcasm with greater empathy skills.
Sarcastic language can be difficult to understand for children and they usually begin to recognize sarcasm between ages 6 and 8. However, some children may take long to start understanding sarcasm, with detection improving even through adolescence.
In a new study, Penny Pexman, Juanita Whalen, and Andrew Nicholson looked at empathy specifically as they believed that children must be able to adopt the perspective of the speaker — to understand the speaker’s attitude and emotions in order to understand sarcasm. The researchers said empathy was strongly associated with several aspects of irony comprehension and processing that suggested emotional reasoning abilities are important to development of irony comprehension.
“Sarcastic language, especially in unfamiliar forms, is a real challenge for most children,” explains Prof. Pexman. “Even when children did not recognize a remark as sarcastic, there was evidence in their reactions that the children with stronger empathy skills were sensitive to the speaker’s intent.”
“This study helps us understand why some children deal better with this challenge than others and provides new insights about development of this complex aspect of emotion recognition,” adds Pexman. “It also puts us in a better position to help children who are struggling with this challenge.”