Neural correlates of metaphor processing

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2004 Aug;20(3):395-402. doi: 10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2004.03.017.

Abstract

Metaphoric language is used to express meaning that is otherwise difficult to conceptualize elegantly. Beyond semantic analysis, understanding the figurative meaning of a metaphor requires mental linkage of different category domains normally not related to each other. We investigated processing of metaphoric sentences using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Stimuli consisted of 60 novel short German sentence pairs with either metaphoric or literal meaning. The pairs differed only in their last one to three words and were matched for syntax structure, word frequency, connotation and tense. Fifteen healthy subjects (six female, nine male, 19-51 years) read these sentences silently and judged by pressing one of two buttons whether they had a positive or negative connotation. Reading metaphors in contrast to literal sentences revealed signal changes in the left lateral inferior frontal (BA 45/47), inferior temporal (BA 20) and posterior middle/inferior temporal (BA 37) gyri. The activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus may reflect semantic inferencing processes during the understanding of a metaphor. This is in line with the results from other functional imaging studies showing an involvement of the left inferior frontal gyrus in integrating word and sentence meanings. Previous results of a right hemispheric involvement in metaphor processing might reflect understanding of complex sentences.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Metaphor*
  • Middle Aged
  • Reading
  • Semantics*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*