Publication details [#7220]

Lee, S. Susa and Mirella Dapretto. 2006. Metaphorical vs. literal word meanings: fMRI evidence against a selective role of the right hemisphere. NeuroImage 29 : 536–544. 9 pp.


The neural networks associated with processing metaphorical word meanings were investigated in normal adults using fMRI. Subjects listened to sets of three adjectives and decided whether the last two had a similar meaning. One condition required accessing the literal meaning of the middle word (e.g., hot-cold-chilly), whereas the other condition required accessing its nonliteral, or metaphorical, meaning (e.g., hot-cold-unfriendly). Direct comparison of the nonliteral vs. literal condition showed reliable activity only in left prefrontal and temporo-parietal regions. These results argue against a selective role of the right hemisphere (RH) in accessing metaphorical word meanings. In line with a growing literature, these findings suggest that prior reports of greater RH involvement for metaphorical language might reflect the increased complexity of figurative language rather than an RH specialization for understanding metaphors. (Susa Lee and Mirelle Dapretto)