Engineering creativity: Prior experience modulates electrophysiological responses to novel metaphors.
ABSTRACT: Novel metaphorical language use exemplifies human creativity through production and comprehension of meaningful linguistic expressions that may have never been heard before. Available electrophysiological research demonstrates, however, that novel metaphor comprehension is cognitively costly, as it requires integrating information from distantly related concepts. Herein, we investigate if such cognitive cost may be reduced as a factor of prior domain knowledge. To this end, we asked engineering and nonengineering students to read for comprehension literal, novel metaphorical, and anomalous sentences related to engineering or general knowledge, while undergoing EEG recording. Upon reading each sentence, participants were asked to judge whether or not the sentence was original in meaning (novelty judgment) and whether or not it made sense (sensicality judgment). When collapsed across groups, our findings demonstrate a gradual N400 modulation with N400 being maximal in response to anomalous, followed by metaphorical, and literal sentences. Between-group comparisons revealed a mirror effect on the N400 to novel metaphorical sentences, with attenuated N400 in engineers and enhanced N400 in non-engineers. Critically, planned comparisons demonstrated reduced N400 amplitudes to engineering novel metaphors in engineers relative to non-engineers, pointing to an effect of prior knowledge on metaphor processing. This reduction, however, was observed in the absence of a sentence type × knowledge × group interaction. Altogether, our study provides novel evidence suggesting that prior domain knowledge may have a direct impact on creative language comprehension.
Project description:The theory of embodied semantics holds that verbal metaphors are strongly grounded in sensorimotor experience. Many studies have proven that besides sensorimotor simulation, the comprehension of verbal metaphors also requires semantic abstraction. But the interaction between simulation and abstraction, as well as the time course of metaphorical meaning integration, is not well understood. In the present study, we aimed to investigate whether embodiment or abstraction, or both, is employed in the processing of Chinese verbal metaphor. Participants were asked to read subject-verb metaphorical, verb-object metaphorical, literal-concrete and literal-abstract sentences, and the target words were measured at the verb and the object of each sentence. The results revealed that a similar N400 effect was elicited by the target verbs in the verb-object metaphorical and the literal-concrete sentences, and a similar P600/LPC effect was induced by the target verbs in the subject-verb metaphorical and the literal-abstract sentences, reflecting that the verb-object metaphors trigger a simulation process, while the subject-verb metaphors trigger an abstraction process in the verb processing stage. Moreover, the subject-verb metaphors elicited a stronger P600/LPC effect by the target verbs than the verb-object metaphors, but there was no difference of the P600/LPC caused by the target objects between the two kinds of metaphors, revealing that the metaphorical meaning of a subject-verb metaphor is integrated in the verb processing stage, while that of a verb-object metaphor is reanalyzed in the object processing stage. These results suggest that a verbal metaphor is processed both by simulation and abstraction, and the metaphorical meaning is integrated immediately with the unfolding of the sentence meaning. The position where the semantic conflict lies in a sentence (verb vs. object) modulates the time course of metaphor sentence comprehension.
Project description: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.
Project description:Embodied cognition theories propose that the semantic representations engaged in during language comprehension are partly supported by perceptual and motor systems, via simulation. Activation in modality-specific regions of cortex is associated with the comprehension of literal language that describes the analogous modalities, but studies addressing the grounding of non-literal or figurative language, such as metaphors, have yielded mixed results. Differences in the psycholinguistic characteristics of sentence stimuli across studies have likely contributed to this lack of consensus. Furthermore, previous studies have been largely correlational, whilst patient studies are a critical way of determining if intact sensorimotor function is necessary to understand language drawing on sensorimotor information. We designed a battery of metaphorical and literal sentence stimuli using action and sound words, with an unprecedented level of control over critical psycholinguistic variables, to test hypotheses about the grounding of metaphorical language. In this Registered Report, we assessed the comprehension of these sentences in 41 patients with Parkinson's disease, who were predicted to be disproportionately affected by the action sentences relative to the sound sentences, and compared their performance to that of 39 healthy age-matched controls who were predicted to show no difference in performance due to sensory modality. Using preregistered Bayesian model comparison methods, we found that PD patients' comprehension of literal action sentences was not impaired, while there was some evidence for a slowing of responses to action metaphors. Follow up exploratory analyses suggest that this response time modality effect was driven by one type of metaphor (predicate) and was absent in another (nominal), despite the fact that the action semantics were similar in both syntactic forms. These results suggest that the conditions under which PD patients demonstrate hypothesized embodiment effects are limited. We offer a critical assessment of the PD action language literature and discuss implications for the embodiment debate. In addition, we suggest how future studies could leverage Bayesian statistical methods to provide more convincing evidence for or against embodied cognition effects.
Project description:The relative contributions of the left and right hemispheres to the processing of metaphoric language remains unresolved. Neuropsychological studies of brain-injured patients have motivated the hypothesis that the right hemisphere plays a critical role in understanding metaphors. However, the data are inconsistent and the hypothesis is not well-supported by neuroimaging research. To address this ambiguity about the right hemisphere's role, we administered a metaphor sentence comprehension task to 20 left-hemisphere injured patients, 20 right hemisphere injured patients, and 20 healthy controls. Stimuli consisted of metaphors of three different types: predicate metaphors based on action verbs, nominal metaphors based on event nouns, and nominal metaphors based on entity nouns. For each metaphor (n = 60), a closely matched literal sentence with the same source term was also generated. Each sentence was followed by four adjective-noun answer choices (target + three foil types) and participants were instructed to select the phrase that best matched the meaning of the sentence. As a group, both left and right hemisphere patients performed worse on metaphoric than literal sentences, and the degree of this difficulty varied for the different types of metaphor - but there was no difference between the two patient groups. Tests for literal-metaphor dissociations at the level of single cases revealed two types of impairments: general comprehension deficits affecting metaphors and literal sentences equally, and selective metaphor impairments that were specific to different types of metaphor. All cases with selective metaphor deficits had injury to the left hemisphere, and no known comprehension difficulties with literal language. Our results argue against the hypothesis of a specific or necessary contribution of the right hemisphere for understanding metaphoric language. Further, they reveal deficits in metaphoric language comprehension not captured by traditional language assessments, suggesting overlooked communication difficulties in left hemisphere patients.
Project description:When a word is used metaphorically (for example "walrus" in the sentence "The president is a walrus"), some features of that word's meaning ("very fat," "slow-moving") are carried across to the metaphoric interpretation while other features ("has large tusks," "lives near the north pole") are not. What happens to these features that relate only to the literal meaning during processing of novel metaphors? In four experiments, the present study examined the role of the feature of physical containment during processing of verbs of physical containment. That feature is used metaphorically to signify difficulty, such as "fenced in" in the sentence "the journalist's opinion was fenced in after the change in regime." Results of a lexical decision task showed that video clips displaying a ball being trapped by a box facilitated comprehension of verbs of physical containment when the words were presented in isolation. However, when the verbs were embedded in sentences that rendered their interpretation metaphorical in a novel way, no such facilitation was found, as evidenced by two eye-tracking reading studies. We interpret this as suggesting that features that are critical for understanding the encoded meaning of verbs but are not part of the novel metaphoric interpretation are ignored during the construction of metaphorical meaning. Results and limitations of the paradigm are discussed in relation to previous findings in the literature both on metaphor comprehension and on the interaction between language comprehension and the visual world.
Project description:Language comprehension requires rapid and flexible access to information stored in long-term memory, likely influenced by activation of rich world knowledge and by brain systems that support the processing of sensorimotor content. We hypothesized that while literal language about biological motion might rely on neurocognitive representations of biological motion specific to the details of the actions described, metaphors rely on more generic representations of motion. In a priming and self-paced reading paradigm, participants saw video clips or images of (a) an intact point-light walker or (b) a scrambled control and read sentences containing literal or metaphoric uses of biological motion verbs either closely or distantly related to the depicted action (walking). We predicted that reading times for literal and metaphorical sentences would show differential sensitivity to the match between the verb and the visual prime. In Experiment 1, we observed interactions between the prime type (walker or scrambled video) and the verb type (close or distant match) for both literal and metaphorical sentences, but with strikingly different patterns. We found no difference in the verb region of literal sentences for Close-Match verbs after walker or scrambled motion primes, but Distant-Match verbs were read more quickly following walker primes. For metaphorical sentences, the results were roughly reversed, with Distant-Match verbs being read more slowly following a walker compared to scrambled motion. In Experiment 2, we observed a similar pattern following still image primes, though critical interactions emerged later in the sentence. We interpret these findings as evidence for shared recruitment of cognitive and neural mechanisms for processing visual and verbal biological motion information. Metaphoric language using biological motion verbs may recruit neurocognitive mechanisms similar to those used in processing literal language but be represented in a less-specific way.
Project description:A large body of electrophysiological literature showed that metaphor comprehension elicits two different event-related brain potential responses, namely the so-called N400 and P600 components. Yet most of these studies test metaphor in isolation while in natural conversation metaphors do not come out of the blue but embedded in linguistic and extra-linguistic context. This study aimed at assessing the role of context in the metaphor comprehension process. We recorded EEG activity while participants were presented with metaphors and equivalent literal expressions in a minimal context (Experiment 1) and in a supportive context where the word expressing the ground between the metaphor's topic and vehicle was made explicit (Experiment 2). The N400 effect was visible only in minimal context, whereas the P600 was visible both in the absence and in the presence of contextual cues. These findings suggest that the N400 observed for metaphor is related to contextual aspects, possibly indexing contextual expectations on upcoming words that guide lexical access and retrieval, while the P600 seems to reflect truly pragmatic interpretative processes needed to make sense of a metaphor and derive the speaker's meaning, also in the presence of contextual cues. In sum, previous information in the linguistic context biases toward a metaphorical interpretation but does not suppress interpretative pragmatic mechanisms to establish the intended meaning.
Project description:Neuroimaging studies show that metaphors activate sensorimotor areas. These findings were interpreted as metaphors contributing to conceptual thought by mapping concrete, somatosensory information onto abstract ideas. But is sensorimotor information a necessary constituent of figurative meaning? The present study employed event-related potentials (ERPs) in a divided visual field paradigm with healthy adults to explore the role of sensorimotor feature processing in the comprehension of novel metaphors via the electrophysiological concreteness effect. Participants read French, novel adjective-noun expressions that were either metaphorical ("fat sentence") or literal ("fat hip"). While literal expressions evoked a typical concreteness effect, an enhanced frontal negativity during right hemisphere (RH) as opposed to left hemisphere (LH) presentation, metaphors showed no such sign of sensorimotor feature processing. Relative to literals, they evoked a sustained frontal negativity during LH presentation and similar amplitudes during RH presentation, but both of these effects were the greater the more abstract the metaphors were. It is the first time such an electrophysiological abstractness effect is reported, just the opposite of a concreteness effect. It is particularly noteworthy that ERPs evoked by metaphors were not contingent on figurativeness, novelty, meaningfulness, imageability, emotional valence, or arousal, only on abstractness. When compared with similarly novel literal expressions, metaphors did not evoke a typical N400 and did not activate the RH either. The findings shed new light on the neurocognitive machinery of figurative meaning construction, pervasive in everyday communication. Contrary to embodied cognition, the conceptual system might be organized around abstract representations and not sensorimotor information, even for lush, metaphorical language.
Project description:Schizophrenia patients have been reported to be more impaired in comprehending non-literal than literal language since early studies on proverbs. Preference for literal rather than figurative interpretations continues to be documented. The main aim of this study was to establish whether patients are indeed able to use combinatorial semantic processing to comprehend literal sentences and both combinatorial analysis, and retrieval of pre-stored meanings to comprehend idiomatic sentences. The study employed a sentence continuation task in which subjects were asked to decide whether a target word was a sensible continuation of a previous sentence fragment to investigate idiomatic and literal sentence comprehension in patients with paranoid schizophrenia. Patients and healthy controls were faster in accepting sensible continuations than in rejecting non-sensible ones in both literal and idiomatic sentences. Patients were as accurate as controls in comprehending literal and idiomatic sentences, but they were overall slower than controls in all conditions. Once the contribution of cognitive covariates was partialled out, the response times (RTs) to sensible idiomatic continuations of patients did not significantly differ from those of controls. This suggests that the state of residual schizophrenia did not contribute to slower processing of sensible idioms above and beyond the cognitive deficits that are typically associated with schizophrenia.
Project description:Despite the ubiquity and importance of metaphor in thought and communication, its neural mediation remains elusive. We suggest that this uncertainty reflects, in part, stimuli that have not been designed with recent conceptual frameworks in mind or that have been hampered by inadvertent differences between metaphoric and literal conditions. In this article, we begin addressing these shortcomings by developing a large, flexible, extensively normed, and theoretically motivated set of metaphoric and literal sentences. On the basis of the results of three norming studies, we provide 280 pairs of closely matched metaphoric and literal sentences that are characterized along 10 dimensions: length, frequency, concreteness, familiarity, naturalness, imageability, figurativeness, interpretability, valence, and valence judgment reaction time. In addition to allowing for control of these potentially confounding lexical and sentential factors, these stimuli are designed to address questions about the role of novelty, metaphor type, and sensory-motor grounding in determining the neural basis of metaphor comprehension. Supplemental data for this article may be downloaded from http://brm.psychonomic-journals.org/content/supplemental.