Wait, was that sarcasm?


Mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook homepage, I happened to stumble across an article from the DailyMail discussing a new test revealing if one is good at “differentiating between fact and fiction”. After reading the article and investigating it further, I discovered that the Relational Inference and Social Communication (RISC) video inventory was actually developed by Kathrin Rothermich and her colleague Marc Pell here in Montreal through McGill’s School of Communication Disorders.

The RISC video inventory consists of 926 short vignettes where 4 actors are interacting in different relationships as romantic partners, friends, colleagues or a boss/employee relationship. In each interaction, the actors depict a specific intention varying from being sincere, sarcastic, teasing, to telling “white lies”.

Rothermich and Pell then tested their RISC scale on a group of healthy individuals to see whether they were able to identify the speaker’s intentions and got feedback on any vocal or facial cues. Researchers found that participants were able to accurately identify the speaker’s intentions if the actor was telling the truth or teasing someone. However, sarcasm was especially hard to recognize and particularly for men. Sarcasm was only easily identified if it was used in interactions between friends.

The researchers even discussed that when the actors were given the scripts to create the vignettes, they had a hard time playing a role where they had to “tease” the other individual. Rothermich offers a rational explanation stating, “this may be because teasing doesn’t always fit logically into a conversation. One of the things that some actors did was to speak with exaggerated or fake accents when they were teasing, which I something that other researchers have also reported.”

After reading that statement made by Rothermich, I then began to think about the concept of teasing. It’s not an intention that I ever really use throughout my daily life with my friends because my humor is more geared towards being sarcastic. I thought to myself that the difference between sarcasm and teasing shouldn’t be hard to identify, so I decided to take the quick test for myself. The DailyMail article provided a link where one can watch 4 quick vignettes with the real actors and indicate whether the interaction was, “sincerity”, “sarcasm”, “teasing/jocularity” or “a white lie”.

You can watch the 4 vignettes here: http://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/how-can-i-tell-if-theyre-lying-256951

You can take the quiz yourself here: http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/quizshow.php?title=social-interactions&q=1

Honestly, I thought I would have been a professional when it comes to detecting sarcasm because I enjoy using it all the time with my friends, but to my surprise these were my results:

I clearly had a hard time differentiating between sarcasm and teasing. These results worry me because if the RISC is going to be used to identify different interactions between people, there should be a more distinct line between sarcasm and teasing. Especially since Rothermich previously explained that the actors itself had a harder time acting out “teasing”. Does this make the RISC inventory less valid? I think my results reveal a true indication as to why it is important that the inventory consists of 926 different videos (instead of just 4) making the scale more reliable as to what it’s testing. Hopefully after being tested on a multitude of different social interactions, the individual will be able to produce more reliable results.

The researchers believe that the RISC video inventory will be a useful scale to measure social cognition, inter-personal communication and the interpretation of a speaker’s intention. Especially in the case of those who suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or even neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder where identifying white lies may be harder for those individuals. It would be interesting to see how the RISC inventory helps to identify those problematic areas.

To read the full article by Kathrin Rothermich and Marc Pell: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0133902

To read the DailyMail article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3336851/Can-tell-s-lying-Interactive-quiz-tests-ability-separate-fact-fiction.html#ixzz3t0sZ8wf5



McGill University. (2015, November 27). How can I tell if they’re lying?.ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 21, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151127102616.htm

Rothermich, K., & Pell, M. D. (2015). Introducing RISC: A New Video Inventory for Testing Social Perception. PloS one, 10(7), e0133902.