“It’s a very tricky thing to recognize that people are deliberately hiding what they mean,” Pexman says. “Children have to listen and look beyond the words to what’s in the mind of the speaker and the emotion they’re trying to convey. Empathy seems to help children get beyond the literal meaning of the words.”
Pexman and her colleagues wondered why some kids got the joke earlier. They suspected that children who were more empathetic might be quicker to recognize the contradiction between what was being said and the tone and expression of the person saying it….
When the researchers correlated the empathy findings with the responses to the puppet shows they saw a clear role for empathy: the more empathetic kids were, the more likely it was that they’d correctly identify sarcastic comments in the puppet shows.