Metaphors Make Brains Touchy Feely

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Metaphors Make Brains Touchy Feely

Conceptual metaphor theory suggests that knowledge is structured around metaphorical mappings derived from physical experience. Segregated processing of object properties in sensory cortex allows testing of the hypothesis that metaphor processing recruits activity in domain-specific sensory cortex. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we show that texture-selective somatosensory cortex in the parietal operculum is activated when processing sentences containing textural metaphors, compared to literal sentences matched for meaning. This finding supports the idea that comprehension of metaphors is perceptually grounded.

Mapping Metaphor.  Touching different textures activates certain areas of the brain, shown in yellow and red. But a new study finds that textural metaphors trigger a reaction, too (shown in green and, where overlapping, brown), in the parietal operculum. 

The right turn of phrase can activate the brain’s sensory centers, a new study suggests.  Researchers have found that textural metaphors—phrases such as “soft-hearted”—turn on a part of the brain that’s important to the sense of touch. The result may help resolve a long-standing controversy over how the brain understands metaphors and may offer scientists a new way to study how different brain regions communicate.

  • The language-processing parts of volunteers’ brains became active regardless of whether the volunteers listened to the literal sentences or the metaphors
  • But textural metaphors also activated the parietal operculum, a region of the brain involved in feeling different textures through touch
  • That part of the brain didn’t light up when listening to a literal sentence expressing the same meaning as the metaphor.

The result suggests the brain’s grasp of metaphors is grounded in perception…This is pretty clear evidence” for the metaphor-through-perception camp”

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