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Poster B50, Thursday, August 16, 3:05 – 4:50 pm, Room 2000AB

Exploring 9-year-old children’s brain activity during verbal irony processing using Event-Related Potentials

Hugo Corona-Hernández1, Gloria Avecilla-Ramírez1, Karina Hess Zimmermann1, Silvia Ruiz-Tovar1, Lucero Díaz-Calzada1, AV Carrillo-Pena2, Josué Romero-Turrubiates1;1Autonomous University of Queretaro, 2Neurobiology Institute, National Autonomous University of Mexico

Verbal irony production and comprehension are two phenomena which consolidate during late language development. Through different approaches, research on verbal irony has provided evidence about social, cognitive, and linguistic abilities that might make children able to progressively both convey and grasp ironic intended meanings. Focused on searching for N400 and P600 effects, Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) have been used to study verbal irony processing in adults using reading paradigms. However, this subject remains unexplored in children. Furthermore, none of the existing ERP studies on verbal irony comprehension has ever attempted to explore whether or not the N400 and P600 effects are differently modulated by word position while reading a sentence that receives and ironic or a non-ironic interpretation according to its context. Based on evidence showing that 9-year-old children are going through an important period of pragmatic comprehension development, the aim of this study is to explore brain activity during irony processing in a group of healthy Mexican children. ERP data from a group of 9-year-olds (n=17), all of whom had to satisfy inclusion criteria, were collected and analyzed. Each child completed the ERP experiment in a single individual session. Participants also took a general reading comprehension test and a test to measure his or her non-verbal IQ. A total of fifty brief stories (twenty ironic, twenty non-ironic and ten fillers) were used for the ERP paradigm. Each story has a context and a target sentence. Each target sentence has two target words that represent the stimuli which ERPs were synchronized with: the critical word (always the second word of the sentence), whose ironic or literal meaning depends on context, and the final word of the sentence. No N400 effect was observed in any of the word positions (critical and final). This result supports previous findings in adults, suggesting that no semantic integration difficulty arises during ironic comprehension. The ERPs’ visual analysis revealed a late positivity consistent with the P600 component in response to the ironic critical word compared with the literal critical word. For the word in final position, a larger sustained positivity in response to the ironic condition compared to the literal one was observed. Independent repeated measures ANOVAs, with four within-subject factors (2 Positions x 2 Conditions x 8 Scalp Regions x 2 Hemispheres), were carried out for a 550-850 msec window. The analysis showed a main effect of condition, and interactions between position and region as well as between condition and region. Specific analysis showed significant differences between conditions for the word in the final position, but no differences for the critical word. These findings suggest that verbal irony interpretation has not been achieved yet by the time 9-year-old children read the ironic sentence critical word; instead, it seems that they are still processing information, and that it is until they read the ironic sentence’s final word when they achieve the verbal irony integration process.

Topic Area: Language Development