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Neuroimage. 2006 Jan 15;29(2):536-44. Epub 2005 Sep 13.

Metaphorical vs. literal word meanings: fMRI evidence against a selective role of the right hemisphere.

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Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, UCLA, 660 Charles Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


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.

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