Publication details [#6458]

Kacinik, Natalie A. 2003. Hemispheric processing of literal and metaphoric language. Riverside, Calif.. 215 pp.


The goal of this dissertation was to investigate the manner and extent to which each cerebral hemisphere is typically involved in understanding metaphors of increasing linguistic complexity. Experiment 1 investigated hemispheric differences in the time-course of literal and metaphoric meaning activation of lexical metaphors (ambiguous words with literal and metaphoric meanings) in a word priming paradigm. Literal meaning activation was bilateral and generally maintained across the time-course. Metaphoric meanings were weakly activated by the RH, but their activation was maintained across the time-course, whereas the LH was found to activate metaphoric meaning at brief durations, but not after a longer period of time period. In Experiment 2 lexical metaphors were presented in sentence contexts that were either ambiguous or unambiguous regarding the intended meaning. Literal and metaphoric meanings were found to be active to the same degree in both hemispheres after both ambiguous and unambiguous sentences, although priming effects were generally larger with unambiguous contexts. The first two experiments were designed to examine cerebral asymmetries for literal versus metaphoric meaning activation going from minimal lexical contexts to sentences of greater constraint. In comparing their results, the increase of contextual support from single words to sentences facilitated the activation of metaphoric meanings to a larger extent than literal meaning, in both visual fields. Standard "an X is a Y" ('e.g., His girlfriend's face was a storm') metaphoric expressions, whose meaning only emerges upon comprehension of the entire sentence, were examined in Experiment 3. This experiment was also designed to investigate the extent to which each hemisphere maintains the activation of contextually inconsistent literal and metaphoric aspects of meaning. The LH selected and integrated only contextually relevant meanings, whereas metaphor processing by the RH resulted in a broader activation of semantics, such that priming was obtained for inappropriate literal meanings. It is concluded that the RH cannot generally be considered the preferred substrate for metaphor comprehension, but that RH processes may be preferentially involved in situations where an initial interpretation needs to be modified. (LLBA, Accession Number 200500017, (c) CSA [2004]. All rights reserved)