Lexical olfaction recruits olfactory orbitofrontal cortex in metaphorical and literal contexts

Brain Lang. 2018 Apr;179:11-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2018.02.001. Epub 2018 Feb 23.


The investigation of specific lexical categories has substantially contributed to advancing our knowledge on how meaning is neurally represented. One sensory domain that has received particularly little attention is olfaction. This study aims to investigate the neural representation of lexical olfaction. In an fMRI experiment, participants read olfactory metaphors, their literal paraphrases, and literal olfactory sentences. Regions of interest were defined by a functional localizer run of odor processing. We observed activation in secondary olfactory areas during metaphorical and literal olfactory processing, thus extending previous findings to the novel source domain of olfaction. Previously reported enhanced activation in emotion-related areas due to metaphoricity could not be replicated. Finally, no primary olfactory cortex was found active during lexical olfaction processing. We suggest that this absence is due to olfactory hedonicity being crucial to understand the meaning of the current olfactory expressions. Consequently, the processing of olfactory hedonicity recruits secondary olfactory areas.

Keywords: Embodiment; Metaphor; Neural representation; Olfaction; Reading; fMRI.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Metaphor*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Young Adult