A new study suggests that the greater the empathy skills of children, the easier it is for them to recognize sarcasm.
For children, sarcastic language can be difficult to understand. They generally begin to recognize sarcasm between ages 6 and 8, especially familiar sarcastic praise such as "Thanks a lot!" and "Nice going!"
But some children take much longer to begin to understand sarcasm, with detection improving even through adolescence.
In a new study, Penny Pexman, Juanita Whalen, and Andrew Nicholson investigated whether differences in the ability of children to empathize with others might help to explain why.
The researchers looked at empathy specifically because they thought that in order to understand sarcasm children must be able to adopt the perspective of the speaker - to understand the speaker's attitude and emotions.
"Sarcastic language, especially in unfamiliar forms, is a real challenge for most children," Prof. Pexman said.
"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.
"It also puts us in a better position to help children who are struggling with this challenge," Pexman added.
The study is published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.