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Sarcasm, Lies & Dementia

May 9, 2011

A new study links a failing sense of irony to a form of early-onset dementia.



The brain’s sarcasm detector…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Homer Simpson:

Ooh, look at me, I’m making people happy, I’m the magical man, from Happyland, in a gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane. Oh, by the way, I was being sarcastic. (from “The Simpsons”)


Most people can recognize sarcasm and insincerity. But those with a neurodegenerative disease called frontotemporal dementia lose this skill. University of California, San Francisco neuropsychologists Tal Shany-Ur and Kate Rankin found that patients with damage to the left temporal lobe of the brain couldn’t detect satirical or deceptive speech. Rankin explains.

KATE RANKIN (University of California, San Franscisco):

Knowing what sarcasm actually is, that’s a learned social concept, and when you lose the part of the brain where those concepts are stored, then you lose the ability to know that somebody’s being sarcastic.


The findings could help detect dementia early. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.