Irony comprehension and theory of mind deficits in patients with Parkinson's disease

Laura Monetta, Christopher M. Grindrod, Marc D. Pell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many individuals with Parkinson's disease (PD) are known to have difficulties in understanding pragmatic aspects of language. In the present study, a group of eleven non-demented PD patients and eleven healthy control (HC) participants were tested on their ability to interpret communicative intentions underlying verbal irony and lies, as well as on their ability to infer first- and second-order mental states (i.e., theory of mind). Following Winner et al. (1998), participants answered different types of questions about the events which unfolded in stories which ended in either an ironic statement or a lie. Results showed that PD patients were significantly less accurate than HC participants in assigning second-order beliefs during the story comprehension task, suggesting that the ability to make a second-order mental state attribution declines in PD. The PD patients were also less able to distinguish whether the final statement of a story should be interpreted as a joke or a lie, suggesting a failure in pragmatic interpretation abilities. The implications of frontal lobe dysfunction in PD as a source of difficulties with working memory, mental state attributions, and pragmatic language deficits are discussed in the context of these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)972-981
Number of pages10
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Fronto-striatal mechanisms
  • Neurogenic language impairment
  • Nonliteral language
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Pragmatics
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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