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Metaphor, emotion and the brain

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Veranstaltungskategorie Vortrag


Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik


In this talk I will give an overview of neuroimaging research from my lab, which showed that metaphors engage readers at the emotional level more strongly than their literal counterparts, by activating neural structures that typically respond to evolutionary relevant or emotionally salient stimuli. In particular, we found that taste metaphors, e.g., She looked at him sweetly, activated neural areas associated with taste perception more strongly than their almost identical literal counterparts, i.e., She looked at him kindly, supporting the idea that concrete, sensory representations help comprehension of abstract concepts. In addition, taste metaphors activated the amygdala more strongly, a structure of the ancient mammalian brain responsible for appetitive or withdrawing reactions to external stimuli, e.g., food versus a threatening bear. Hence, metaphorical formulations may be more emotionally evocative than their literal counterparts. We replicated this finding using different types of metaphors not restricted to taste, natural stories, and idioms, and we have support from research from other labs. One open question now is: What makes metaphors more emotionally engaging? Their link to sensory-motor representations? The activation of multiple or richer meanings? Or an implicit evaluation of metaphors as more aesthetically pleasing? We can discuss these together.

Dr. Francesca Citron (University of Lancaster)

Alexander Onysko (alexander [dot] onysko [at] aau [dot] at)