Recognition of metaphor and irony in young adults

The impact of schizotypal personality traits

Robyn Langdon*, Max Coltheart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

111 Citations (Scopus)


Patients with schizophrenia demonstrate two dissociable impairments of pragmatic language comprehension: (1) an insensitivity to irony, which is associated with poor theory-of-mind (i.e. a difficulty with inferring other people's thoughts); and (2) poor recognition of metaphors, which may reflect degraded semantics. This study investigated whether non-clinical high-schizotypal adults show similar impairments of pragmatic language. Thirty-six university students completed the Raine Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire, the Wechsler Memory Scale Logical-Memories subtest, Raven's Progressive Matrices and a story comprehension task that tested the ability to discriminate between incongruous statements and appropriate uses of ironical, metaphorical or literal speech. Counter to the pattern found for patients, high-schizotypal adults were just as capable as low-schizotypal adults of identifying appropriate metaphors, suggesting a discontinuity between schizophrenia and schizotypy for the metaphor-recognition problem. This study's finding of intact metaphor recognition in high-schizotypal adults contrasts with previous findings of poor proverb comprehension in these individuals and is interpreted in terms of different semantic processes required for recognizing and interpreting metaphors. Consistent with the pattern found for patients, high-schizotypal adults were significantly impaired in their ability to appreciate when a literally contradictory utterance could be interpreted as ironical, suggesting continuity between schizophrenia and schizotypy for the irony-appreciation problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-20
Number of pages12
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2004


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