Ruth Filik

Language Research Lab

Who Am I ?

I am an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at The University of Nottingham.

Ruth Filik

At the European Conference on Eye Movements

My Research Interests

My interests lie in how our knowledge of the world and of the context in which we encounter language enable us to understand what we are reading or listening to. Context and world knowledge are particularly important for understanding and anticipating the behaviour of story characters, and for comprehending certain types of figurative language, such as irony. I investigate these issues by studying reading behaviour (usually eye movements), as well as examining brain activity during the performance of language-related tasks.

I am also interested in more applied issues, such as communication in a healthcare setting, understanding the relationship between information processing and certain disorders (such as eating disorders), and the use of textual devices such as emoticons.

Roles and responsibilities:
Experimental Psychology Society committee member
Academic Editor PLOS ONE
Editorial board Journal of Memory and Language

Past and Current Projects

Please scroll down for details of some past and current research projects

Towards a unifying theory of sarcasm comprehension

Principal Investigator: Dr. Ruth Filik
Co-Investigator: Prof. Rachel Giora (Tel Aviv University)
Funded by: British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme

Sarcasm is very common in everyday language; however, how we make sense of it is still widely disputed. To advance our knowledge in this area, in this project we are using cutting-edge techniques in Psychology to test the predictions of leading linguistic theories. Specifically, we are conducting a series of experiments in which we monitor participants’ eye movements while they are reading sarcastic texts, to help us detect the key factors involved in understanding sarcastic utterances. To encourage further research in this area, we are running a number of activities with the aim of fostering collaborative links, including organising a workshop on figurative language comprehension.

Workshop programme

Examining the emotional impact of verbal irony

Principal Investigator: Dr. Ruth Filik
Co-Investigator: Prof. Hartmut Leuthold (University of Tuebingen)
Funded by: ESRC

People often use ironic language in everyday conversation. For example, if someone does something stupid, their friend may make the comment, “That was clever!”, which on the surface of it, is the opposite of what they actually mean. Given the risk of misunderstanding, it seems likely that using irony serves some other communicative function, such as evoking a particular emotional response in the recipient. The aim of this project was to investigate the emotional impact of verbal irony, as well as the influence of emoticons and other textual devices.

Results from rating studies showed that ironic criticism was judged as less negative than literal criticism, and ironic praise as less positive than literal praise, suggesting that irony serves to mute emotional impact (Filik et al., 2016). In contrast, more immediate emotional responses to irony were found to be enhanced compared to those for literal language (Filik et al., 2015). This apparent contradiction can be reconciled by eye-tracking data suggesting that sarcasm ‘stings’ initially, but is then later rationalised as being more amusing than literal criticism (Filik et al., 2017).

Irony and emoticons
Devices such as emoticons often accompany irony in computer-mediated communication. Rating studies (Filik et al., 2016) showed that if the sarcastic meaning of a comment can be easily deduced from the context, adding a device (e.g., ;-), :-p, !, or …) will not aid comprehension. However, if the receiver cannot tell from the context whether the comment is intended sarcastically, using an emoticon may reduce misunderstanding.

In support of this, production studies (Thompson & Filik, 2016) showed that when participants are asked to produce a sarcastic message or modify an ambiguous message to clarify its meaning, emoticons (especially ;-) and :-p) were commonly used to indicate sarcastic intent.

Using psychophysiological measures to capture emotional responses showed higher emotional arousal accompanied by reduced frowning and enhanced smiling for messages with rather than without an emoticon, suggesting that emoticons increase positive emotions (Thompson et al., 2016).

More research outcomes


Please scroll down for publications

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

For pdfs see

Filik, R., Brightman, E., Gathercole, C., & Leuthold, H. (2017). The emotional impact of verbal irony: Eye-tracking evidence for a two-stage process. Journal of Memory and Language, 93, 193-202.

Thompson, D., Mackenzie, I. G., Leuthold, H., & Filik, R. (2016). Emotional responses to irony and emoticons in written language: Evidence from EDA and facial EMG. Psychophysiology, 53, 1054–1062.

Thompson, D., & Filik, R. (2016). Sarcasm in written communication: Emoticons are efficient markers of intention. Journal of Computer-mediated Communication, 21, 105–120.

Filik, R., Turcan, A., Thompson, D., Harvey, N., Davies, H., & Turner, A. (2016). Sarcasm and emoticons: Comprehension and emotional impact. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 2130-2146.

Hall, S. S., Maltby, J., Filik, R., & Paterson, K. B. (2016). Keys skills for science learning: The importance of text cohesion and reading ability. Educational Psychology, 36, 191-215.

Leuthold, H., Kunkel, A., Mackenzie, I. G., & Filik, R. (2015). Online processing of moral transgressions: ERP evidence for spontaneous evaluation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 1021-1029.

Filik, R., Hunter, C. M., & Leuthold, H. (2015). When language gets emotional: Irony and the embodiment of affect in discourse. Acta Psychologica, 156, 114-125.

Hall, S., Kowalski, R., Paterson, K. B., Basran, J., Filik, R., & Maltby, J. (2015). Local text cohesion, reading ability and individual science aspirations: Key factors influencing comprehension in science classes. British Educational Research Journal, 41, 122-142.

Filik, R., Leuthold, H., Wallington, K., & Page, J. (2014). Testing theories of irony processing using eye-tracking and ERPs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40, 811-828.

Hall, S., Basran, J., Paterson, K. B., Kowalski, R., Filik, R., & Maltby, J. (2014). Individual differences in the effectiveness of text cohesion for science text comprehension. Learning and Individual Differences, 29, 74-80.

Sauermann, A., Filik, R., & Paterson, K. B. (2013). Processing contextual cues to focus: Evidence from eye movements in reading. Language and Cognitive Processes, 28, 875-903.

Filik, R., & Leuthold, H. (2013). The role of character-based knowledge in online narrative comprehension: Evidence from eye movements and ERPs. Brain Research, 1506, 94-104.

Leuthold, H., Filik, R., Murphy, K., & Mackenzie, I. G., (2012). The on-line processing of socioemotional information in prototypical scenarios: Inferences from brain potentials. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7, 457-466.

Filik, R., Leuthold, H., Moxey, L. M., & Sanford, A. J., (2011). Anaphoric reference to quantified antecedents: An event-related brain potential study. Neuropsychologia, 49, 3786-3794.

Filik, R., & Barber, E., (2011). Inner speech during silent reading reflects the reader's regional accent. PLOS ONE, 6, e25782.

Darker, I. T, Gerrett, D., Filik, R, Purdy, K. J., & Gale, A. G., (2011). The influence of 'Tall Man' lettering on errors of visual perception in the recognition of written drug names. Ergonomics, 54, 21-33.

Moxey, L. M., & Filik, R. (2010). The effects of character desire on focus patterns and pronominal reference following quantified statements. Discourse Processes, 47, 588-616.

Filik, R., & Moxey, L. M. (2010). The on-line processing of written irony. Cognition, 116, 421- 436.

Filik, R., Price, J., Darker, I. T., Gerrett, D. G., Purdy, K. J., & Gale, A. G. (2010). The influence of Tall Man lettering on drug name confusion: A laboratory-based investigation in the UK using younger and older adults and healthcare practitioners. Drug Safety, 33, 1-11.

Paterson, K. B., Filik, R., & Moxey. L. M. (2009). Quantifiers and discourse processing. Language and Linguistics Compass, 3, 1390-1402.

Filik, R., Paterson, K. B., & Liversedge, S. P. (2009). The influence of 'only' and 'even' on on-line semantic interpretation. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16, 678-683.

Moxey, L. M., Filik, R., & Paterson K. B. (2009). On-line effects of what is expected on the resolution of plural pronouns. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24, 843-875.

Filik, R., Sanford, A. J. & Leuthold, H. (2008). Processing pronouns without antecedents: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 1315- 1326.

Filik, R. (2008). Contextual override of pragmatic anomalies: Evidence from eye movements. Cognition, 106, 1038-1046.

Sanford, A. J., Filik, R., Emmott, C., & Morrow, L. (2008). They’re digging up the road again: The processing cost of “Institutional They”. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 372-380.

Paterson, K. B., Filik, R., & Liversedge, S. P. (2008). Competition during the processing of quantifier scope ambiguities. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 459-473.

Filik, R., & Sanford, A. J. (2008). When is cataphoric reference recognised? Cognition, 107, 1112-1121.

Paterson, K. B., Liversedge, S. P., Filik, R., Juhasz, B., White, S., & Rayner, K. (2007). Processing contrastive focus during silent reading: Evidence from eye movements. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 1423-1445.

Sanford, A. J., & Filik, R. (2007). “They” as a gender-unspecified singular pronoun: Eyetracking reveals a processing cost. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 171-178.

Filik, R., Purdy, K. J., Gale, A. G., & Gerrett, D. (2006). Labelling of medicines and patient safety: Evaluating methods of reducing drug name confusion. Human Factors, 48, 39-47.

Poesio, M., Sturt, P. Artstein, R., & Filik, R. (2006). Underspecification and anaphora: Theoretical issues and preliminary evidence. Discourse Processes, 42, 157-175.

Paterson, K. B., Liversedge, S. P., White, D., Filik, R., & Jaz, K. (2006). Children’s interpretation of ambiguous focus in sentences with ‘only’. Language Acquisition, 13, 253-284.

Filik, R., Paterson, K. B., & Liversedge, S. P. (2005). Parsing with focus particles in context: Eye movements during the processing of relative clause ambiguities. Journal of Memory and Language, 53, 473-495.

Sanford, A. J. S., Sanford, A. J., Filik, R., & Molle, J. (2005). Depth of lexical-semantic processing and sentential load. Journal of Memory and Language, 53, 378-396.

Filik, R., Paterson, K. B., & Liversedge, S. P. (2004). Processing doubly quantified sentences: Evidence from eye movements. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 11, 953-959.

Filik, R., Purdy, K. J., Gale, A. G., & Gerrett, D. (2004). Drug name confusion: Evaluating the effectiveness of capital (“Tall Man”) letters using eye movement data. Social Science and Medicine, 59, 2597-2601.

Paterson, K. B., Liversedge, S. P., Rowland, C., & Filik, R. (2003). Children’s comprehension of sentences with focus particles. Cognition, 89, 263-294.


Please scroll down for details of past and current lab members

Christina Ralph-Nearman

Christina is currently studying for a PhD in which she is investigating factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of disordered eating behaviour.

She uses methods such as eye-tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate these issues, and their relationship with emotion, body perception, and individual differences. She is also currently developing novel assessment apps to measure body concern, body dysmorphia, and eating disorder tendencies.

See on ResearchGate

Dr. Fabio Parente

Fabio completed his PhD on spatial language comprehension, and is now working as a Teaching Associate in the School of English at the University of Nottingham.

His research investigates mental representations and imagery during processing of spatial descriptions and narratives. He primarily seeks to do so by studying the effects of linguistic manipulations and task instructions on behavioural performance and reading behaviour. He is interested in applying data-driven, machine learning approaches and knowledge of mental representations to the development of brain-computer interfaces, and is keen to pursue collaborations in this area.

See on ResearchGate

Dr. Alexandra Țurcan

Alexandra completed her PhD in using eye-tracking to investigate written sarcasm comprehension. She is now the manager of Deep Silver GamesLab - a user experience research facility at Dambuster Studios in Nottingham that combines gameplay data with psychological research methods to objectively assess player experience in video games.

Her interests include academic topics related to inter-cultural communication, language development, and multilingualism, as well as data mining techniques, statistics, and programming. She is also keen to foster collaborations between academia and industry.

See on ResearchGate

Dr. Dominic Thompson

Dominic was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on our ESRC funded grant investigating the emotional impact of verbal irony. He is now an Assistant Professor in the School of English at The University of Nottingham.

His interests include how we respond emotionally and behaviourally to language, especially non-literal forms such as sarcasm. He is also interested in the roles that emoticons play in written communication: how they can be used to improve message clarity, and whether they impact emotional responses ;)

See on

Contact Me

Please feel free to contact me using the details below

My Work Location

School of Psychology,
The University of Nottingham,
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK
Call: +44 (0)115 951 5402