The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No kidding with sarcasm

Calgary (Alberta), Jan. 10 (Reuters): When parents use sarcasm to playfully tease their young children, do the kids see the humour'

Not likely, according to a Canadian researcher who has completed a study showing that children need to be 10 or older before fully grasping the concept that sarcasm can be funny or even insulting.

The results have implications for everything from the content of children’s television programming to interpreting bullying behaviour, University of Calgary psychologist Penny Pexman said.

“Our study suggests that the five-year-olds are beginning to understand the simplest form of sarcasm and are getting better at it, but still by the age of eight they really don’t find it funny, so there’s still a dissociation there,” said Pexman, who has been studying sarcasm for the past six years. “They can appreciate that the person means the opposite of what they’re saying, but they don’t find it humorous.”

She and a colleague tested 64 children, presenting them with various scenarios played out with puppets using “counter-factual communication”.

One featured a bumbling gardener who pulls all the flowers out of a garden and leaves only the “yucky” weeds, prompting a miffed homeowner to remark: “You’re a great gardener.”

“Half the kids say, ‘No, he means he’s a good gardener’, so they really take it literally. Even though the intonation is there and the gardener totally messed up, they really do think it’s a positive remark,” Pexman said.

In addition, children under the age of about 10 almost always interpreted a sarcastic remark as serious, even when it was intended to be humorous, she said.

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