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 examining the moment-to-moment cognitive processes underlying language comprehension, as well as factors that influence our ultimate interpretation of what we are reading or listening to. Factors include aspects of the text itself, such as context and complexity, as well as characteristics of the perceiver. I investigate these issues by studying reading behaviour (usually eye movements), as well as examining brain activity during the performance of language-related tasks, and using measures of interpretation.

Roles and responsibilities:
Associate Editor Journal of Cognitive Psychology
Editorial board Journal of Memory and Language
Editorial board Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition

Past and Current Projects

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

Examining reading in younger and older adults

Principal Investigator: Dr. Ruth Filik
Co-Investigator: Prof. Kevin Paterson (University of Leicester)
Funded by: The Leverhulme Trust

In this project, we are examining changes in reading strategies and language comprehension as we age. Methods employed include monitoring people's eye movements as they read text from a computer screen in the lab, as well as running reading time experiments over the internet. Some preliminary findings reveal similarities in how complex sentences are processed and understood across younger and older adulthood (see Cutter et al., 2022a; Cutter et al., 2022b).

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 used cutting-edge techniques in Psychology to test the predictions of leading linguistic theories. Specifically, we conducted a series of experiments in which we monitored participants’ eye movements while they are reading sarcastic texts, to help us detect the key factors involved in understanding sarcastic utterances. Some of the findings from this project are reported in our special issue of Metaphor & Symbol.

Special Issue

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).

The emotional impact of criticism may be quite different depending on the perspective that is taken. Eye-tracking data (Filik et al., 2017) suggest that participants experience more difficulty processing an amused response to criticism when viewed from the perspective of the victim than the protagonist (see also Thompson et al., 2021, for similar findings from event-related brain potentials). When focus is on the victim, perceivers may concentrate more on the negative aspect of the comment, whereas when focus is on the perspective of the protagonist, they may consider the reasons behind the remark, and perceive it more positively.

Devices such as emoticons or emojis 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).


Please scroll down for publications

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

For pdfs see

Cutter, M. G., Filik, R., & Paterson, K. B. (in press). Do readers maintain word-level uncertainty during reading? A pre-registered replication study. Journal of Memory and Language.

Hand, C. J., Kennedy, A., Filik, R., Pitchford, M., & Robus, C. M. (in press). Emoji identification and emoji effects on sentence emotionality in ASD-diagnosed adults and neurotypical controls. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Garcia, C., Țurcan, A., Howman, H., & Filik, R. (2022). Emoji as a tool to aid the comprehension of written sarcasm: Evidence from younger and older adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 126, 106971.

Cutter, M., Paterson, K. B., & Filik, R. (2022). No evidence of word-level uncertainty in younger and older adults in self-paced reading. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75, 1085-1093.

Cutter, M., Paterson, K. B., & Filik, R. (2022). Online representations of non-canonical sentences are more than good-enough. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75, 30-42.

Ralph-Nearman C., & Filik, R. (2021). An eye-tracking study examining the relationship between males’ eating disorder symptomatology, body mass index, and expectations about character behaviour in text. Cognition and Emotion, 35, 1543-1558.

Filik, R., Ingram, J., Moxey, L., & Leuthold, H. (2021). Irony as a test of the Presupposition-Denial Account: An ERP study. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 50, 1321-1335.

Desai, S., McLean, J., Lawrence, C., & Filik, R. (2021). The impact of hyperbole on perception of victim testimony. Journal of Pragmatics, 174, 143-156.

Thompson, D., Leuthold, H., & Filik, R. (2021). Examining the influence of perspective and prosody on expected emotional responses to irony: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75, 107-113.

Țurcan, A., Howman, H., & Filik, R. (2020). Examining the role of context in written sarcasm comprehension: Evidence from eye-tracking during reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 46, 1966-1976.

Howman, H., & Filik, R. (2020). The role of emoticons in sarcasm comprehension in younger and older adults: Evidence from an eye-tracking experiment. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 73, 1729-1744.

Ralph-Nearman, C., & Filik, R. (2020). Development and validation of new figural scales for female body dissatisfaction assessment on two dimensions: Thin-ideal and muscularity-ideal. BMC: Public Health, 20, 1114.

Robus, C. M., Hand, C. J., Filik, R., & Pitchford, M. (2020). Investigating effects of emoji on neutral narrative text: Evidence from eye movements and perceived emotional valence. Computers in Human Behavior, 109, 106361.

Ralph-Nearman, C., Yeh, H., Khalsa, S. S., Feusner, J. D., & Filik, R. (2020). What is the relationship between body mass index and eating disorder symptomatology in professional female fashion models? Psychiatry Research, 293, 113358.

Barzy, M., Filik, R., Williams, D., & Ferguson, H. J. (2020). Emotional processing of ironic versus literal criticism in autistic and nonautistic adults: Evidence from eye-tracking. Autism Research, 13, 563-578.

Ralph-Nearman, C., Achee, M., Lapidus, R., Stewart, J. L., & Filik, R. (2019). A systematic and methodological review of attentional biases in eating disorders: Food, body, and perfectionism. Brain and Behaviour, 9, e01458.

Filik, R., Țurcan, A., Ralph-Nearman, C., & Pitiot, A. (2019). What is the difference between irony and sarcasm? An fMRI study. Cortex, 115, 112-122.

Kunkel, A., Filik, R., Mackenzie, I. G., & Leuthold, H. (2018). Task-dependent evaluative processing of moral and emotional content during comprehension: An ERP study. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 18, 389-409.

Ralph-Nearman, C., & Filik, R. (2018). Eating disorder symptomatology and body mass index are associated with readers’ expectations about character behavior: Evidence from eye-tracking during reading. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 51, 1070-1079.

Filik, R., Howman, H., Ralph-Nearman, C., & Giora, R. (2018). The role of defaultness and personality factors in sarcasm interpretation: Evidence from eye-tracking during reading. Metaphor and Symbol, 33, 148-162.

Pickering, B., Thompson, D., & Filik, R. (2018). Examining the emotional impact of sarcasm using a virtual environment. Metaphor and Symbol, 33, 185-197.

Wen, Y., Filik, R., & van Heuven, W. J. B. (2018). Electrophysiological dynamics of Chinese phonology during visual word recognition in Chinese-English bilinguals. Scientific Reports, 8, 1-10.

Ralph-Nearman, C., & Filik, R. (2018). New body scales reveal body dissatisfaction, thin-ideal, and muscularity-ideal in males. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12, 740-750.

Bohan, J., & Filik, R. (2018). Perspective effects during reading: Evidence from text change-detection. Discourse Processes, 55, 113-122.

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.

Țurcan, A., & Filik, R. (2016). An eye-tracking investigation of written sarcasm comprehension: The roles of familiarity and context. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 42, 1867-1893.

Filik, R., Țurcan, 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

Ning Zhu

Ning is currently studying for a PhD where she is investigating individual differences factors, such as theory of mind ability, empathy, sarcasm use tendency, and cultural differences, in sarcasm comprehension and use.

She is also interested in examining the role of characters’ characteristics, such as the social status of the speaker vs. recipient, or the cultural background of the speaker vs. recipient, in sarcasm interpretation.

Dr. Michael Cutter

Michael was a Research Fellow on our Leverhulme Trust funded project investigating reading in younger and older adults. His research interests relate to the cognitive processes underlying reading, and how visual and linguistic factors affect when and where readers move their eyes while processing text, and how people process words before directly fixating them.

He is now working for Public Health Scotland as a Senior Information Analyst.

See on Google Scholar

Shreyasi Desai

Cece is currently pursuing a PhD investigating the impact of certain types of language use on the perception of victim testimony.

Specifically, she is interested in the employment of figurative language in forensically relevant settings and aims to discover discourse goals which ultimately aid in enhancing victim credibility.

Hannah Howman

Hannah is currently undertaking an ESRC-funded PhD focusing on cyberaggression behaviours, specifically, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and trolling.

She is interested in working towards the development of an online intervention to combat cyberaggression behaviours, with a research focus on personality traits and moral cognition.

Tami Kalsi

Tami’s PhD focused on investigating the role of experience and world knowledge when reading in both younger (18-30) and older adults (65+).

During her PhD, Tami was awarded a three month placement by the Research Council UK to work at the Department for Education’s Behavioural Insight Unit. Having thoroughly enjoyed her time in the Civil Service, Tami is now a Senior Researcher at the Department for Education. Tami works in a central research team liaising with various policy teams to help answer the department’s priority issues.

Dr. Christina Ralph-Nearman

Christina’s PhD involved using eye-tracking to investigate factors that contribute to eating disorder symptomatology.

She is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Louisville where she is developing novel assessment apps to measure perceptual and affective aspects of body image disturbances, and digital technologies to more effectively assess, detect, and treat individuals with eating disorders. She was recently selected for the National Institute of Health’s C3i entrepreneurial program for innovative scientists to take their innovations to the marketplace – and founding a startup "Awakening Digital Health Solutions". Her current focus is individuals with eating disorders, comorbidities, and includes special interest populations, such as fashion models.

See on Google Scholar

Dr. Fabio Parente

Fabio completed his PhD on spatial language comprehension, and is now working at Derby University.

His PhD research investigated mental representations and imagery during processing of spatial descriptions and narratives. He has since worked on a number of projects investigating a range of issues related to language comprehension.

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Dr. Alexandra Țurcan

During her PhD, Alexandra used eye-tracking to investigate written sarcasm comprehension. She is now a Senior Data Analyst at Dubai Airports, where she uses statistics and machine learning to improve the passenger experience at one of the world’s busiest airports.

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

See on

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 Google Scholar

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