Young children, at the age of four, understand and use subtleties of language such as irony, reveals research.
"Previous studies concluded that irony wasn't understood before the age of eight or ten," says Stephanie Alexander, a postdoctoral student at the University de Montreal's Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and senior author of the study.
"However, these studies were mostly done in a laboratory setting and mostly focused on sarcasm. We examined children at home and took into consideration four types of non-literal language: hyperbole, euphemism, sarcasm and rhetorical questions."
The study, which was done in collaboration with Holly Recchia from Concordia University, revealed that the children understood at least one ironic remark made by one of the parents.
Although children can fully comprehend this language by age six, certain forms of irony such as hyperbole were understood at age four. In 22 of the 39 families studied, it was sarcasm that was best understood overall by the children.
The study has been published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.