You can grasp a hand. You can also grasp a concept.
One is literal. One is metaphorical. Our brains know the difference, but would we be able to understand the latter without the former?
Previous studies have suggested that our understanding of metaphors may be rooted in our bodily experience. Some functional MRI, o fMRI, brain imaging studies have indicated, for example, that when you hear a metaphor such as "she had a rough day," regions of the brain associated with tactile experience are activated. If you hear, "he's so sweet," areas associated with taste are activated. And when you hear action verbs used in a metaphorical context, like "grasp a concept," regions involved in motor perception and planning are activated.
A study by University of Arizona researcher Vicky Lai, published in the journal Brain Research, builds on this research by looking at when, exactly, different regions of the brain are activated in metaphor comprehension and what that tells us about the way we understand language.
Humans Love Talking in Metaphors
Humans use metaphors all the time; they're so ingrained in our language we often don't even notice we're doing it.
In fact, researchers have found that on average, people use a metaphor every 20 words, said Lai, an assistant professor of psychology and cognitive science at the UA. As director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Laboratory in the UA Department of Psychology, Lai is interested in how the brain processes metaphors and other types of language.
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