Inferencing Abilities of Deaf College Students: Foundations and Implications for Metaphor Comprehension and Theory of Mind

Lindsey Edwards, Marc Marschark, William G. Kronenberger, Kathryn Crowe, Dawn Walton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Understanding nonliteral language requires inferencing ability and is an important but complex aspect of social interaction, involving cognitive (e.g., theory of mind, executive function) as well as language skill, areas in which many deaf individuals struggle. This study examined comprehension of metaphor and sarcasm, assessing the contributions of hearing status, inferencing ability, executive function (verbal short-term/working memory capacity), and deaf individuals’ communication skills (spoken versus signed language, cochlear implant use). Deaf and hearing college students completed a multiple-choice metaphor comprehension task and inferencing tasks that included both social-emotional (i.e., theory of mind) and neutral inferences, as well as short-term memory span and working memory tasks. Results indicated the hearing students to have better comprehension of nonliteral language and the ability to make social-emotional inferences, as well as greater memory capacity. Deaf students evidenced strong relationships among inferential comprehension, communication skills, and memory capacity, with substantial proportions of the variance in understanding of metaphor and sarcasm accounted for by these variables. The results of this study enhance understanding of the language and cognitive skills underlying figurative language comprehension and theory of mind and have implications for the social functioning of deaf individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Cochlear implant
  • Deaf
  • Inferencing
  • Metaphor
  • Sarcasm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Inferencing Abilities of Deaf College Students: Foundations and Implications for Metaphor Comprehension and Theory of Mind'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this