Does simile comprehension differ from metaphor comprehension? A functional MRI study

Brain Lang. 2012 Jun;121(3):254-60. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2012.03.006. Epub 2012 Apr 24.


Since Aristotle, people have believed that metaphors and similes express the same type of figurative meaning, despite the fact that they are expressed with different sentence patterns. In contrast, recent psycholinguistic models have suggested that metaphors and similes may promote different comprehension processes. In this study, we investigated the neural substrates involved in the comprehension of metaphor and simile using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate whether simile comprehension differs from metaphor comprehension or not. In the metaphor and simile sentence conditions, higher activation was seen in the left inferior frontal gyrus. This result suggests that the activation in both metaphor and simile conditions indicates similar patterns in the left frontal region. The results also suggest that similes elicit higher levels of activation in the medial frontal region which might be related to inference processes, whereas metaphors elicit more right-sided prefrontal activation which might be related to figurative language comprehension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Metaphor
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Speech Perception / physiology*