The role of the right hemisphere in the interpretation of figurative aspects of language. A positron emission tomography activation study

Brain. 1994 Dec:117 ( Pt 6):1241-53. doi: 10.1093/brain/117.6.1241.


We investigated cerebral activity in six normal volunteers using PET to explore the hypothesis that the right hemisphere has a specific role in the interpretation of figurative aspects of language such as metaphors. We also mapped the anatomical structures involved in sentence comprehension. During regional cerebral blood flow measurement subjects were asked to perform three different linguistic tasks: (i) metaphorical comprehension; (ii) literal comprehension of sentences; and (iii) a lexical-decision task. We found that comprehension of sentences compared with the lexical-decision task, induced extensive activation in several regions of the left hemisphere, including the prefrontal and basal frontal cortex, the middle and inferior temporal gyri and temporal pole, the parietal cortex and the precuneus. Comprehension of metaphors was associated with similar activations in the left hemisphere, but in addition, a number of sites were activated in the right hemisphere: the prefrontal cortex, the middle temporal gyrus, the precuneus and the posterior cingulate. We conclude that the interpretation of language involves widespread distributed systems bilaterally with the right hemisphere having a special role in the appreciation of metaphors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed