Navigation Links
Grasping metaphors: UC San Diego research ties brain area to figures of speech

What does it take to fathom a proverb ?catch the figurative meaning of "an apple doesn't fall far from the tree"?

According to research led by V. S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, a region of the brain known as the angular gyrus is probably at least partly responsible for the human ability to understand metaphor.

Ramachandran and colleagues tested four right-handed patients with damage to the left angular gyrus. Fluent in English and otherwise intelligent and mentally lucid, the patients showed gross deficits in comprehending such common proverbs as "the grass is always greener on the other side" and "an empty vessel makes more noise." Asked to explain the sayings, the patients tended give responses that were literal. The metaphorical meaning escaped them almost entirely.

When pressed to provide deeper or more general accounts, Ramachandran said, "the patients often came up with elaborate, even ingenious interpretations ?that were completely off the mark."

Patient SJ, for example, a former physician who could maintain the flow of normal conversation and even retained the ability to correctly diagnose descriptions of symptoms, got all 20 of the 20 proverbs he was tested on wrong. Prodded on "all that glitters is not gold," he finally said that it meant you had to be very careful when buying jewelry because you might get robbed.

The patients were equally bad at matching a bulbous, amoeboid shape to the sound "booba" and a jagged shape to "kiki." Whereas more than 90 percent of ordinary respondents succeed at this task ?of translating one sort of sensory information into another ?patients with damage to the angular gyrus performed at the level of chance.

Three age-matched control subjects, on the other hand, with lesions in other areas of the brain, performed normally both with proverbs and the booba/kiki test.

Disproportionately larger in ho minids than other primates, the angular gyrus, given its strategic location at the crossroads of areas specialized for processing touch, hearing and vision, Ramachandran conjectures, is critical both to conceptual metaphors and to cross-modal abstractions more generally.

"While it would be premature to conclude that the angular gyrus is the 'metaphor center' of the human brain, we suggest that the evolution of the dominant angular gyrus contributed enormously to the evolution of many quintessentially human abilities, including metaphorical ?and other abstract ?thinking," Ramachandran said.

"Any monkey can reach for a peanut," he said, "but only a human can reach for the stars or even understand what that means."

Ramachandran's lab is continuing work on linking other brain areas, the supramarginal gyrus and human homologues of mirror neurons, for example, to other types of metaphoric abilities.

Intriguingly, in the current study, patient KK, who had damage not only to the angular gyrus but also to the supramarginal gyrus, was abysmal at understanding action metaphors such as "grasping an idea" or "putting your finger on the main argument."


Source:University of California - San Diego

Related biology news :

1. UC San Diego partners with Venter Institute to build marine microbial genomics cyberinfrastructure
2. UC San Diego biologists solve plant growth hormone enigma
3. Columbia research lifts major hurdle to gene therapy for cancer
4. U of M researcher examines newly emerging deadly disease
5. NYU researchers simulate molecular biological clock
6. First atlas of key brain genes could speed research on cancer, neurological diseases
7. New research questions basic tenet of neuron function
8. Vital step in cellular migration described by UCSD medical researchers
9. ASU researchers finds novel chemistry at work to provide parrots vibrant red colors
10. UCSD researchers maintain stem cells without contaminated animal feeder layers
11. Why do insects stop breathing? To avoid damage from too much oxygen, say researchers
Post Your Comments:

(Date:4/11/2017)... 11, 2017 No two people are ... the New York University Tandon School of Engineering ... found that partial similarities between prints are common ... mobile phones and other electronic devices can be ... vulnerability lies in the fact that fingerprint-based authentication ...
(Date:4/5/2017)... April 5, 2017  The Allen Institute for Cell ... Explorer: a one-of-a-kind portal and dynamic digital window into ... data, the first application of deep learning to create ... cell lines and a growing suite of powerful tools. ... these and future publicly available resources created and shared ...
(Date:4/4/2017)...   EyeLock LLC , a leader of iris-based ... Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has issued U.S. Patent ... an iris image with a face image acquired in ... 45 th issued patent. "The ... the multi-modal biometric capabilities that have recently come to ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/12/2017)... (PRWEB) , ... October 12, ... ... today announces publication of a United States multicenter, prospective clinical study that ... disposable, point-of-care diagnostic test capable of identifying clinically significant acute bacterial and ...
(Date:10/12/2017)... ... October 12, 2017 , ... ... launched Rosalind™, the first-ever genomics analysis platform specifically designed for life science ... in honor of pioneering researcher Rosalind Franklin, who made a major contribution ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... ... ... Personal eye wash is a basic first aid supply for any work environment, but most ... you rinse first if a dangerous substance enters both eyes? It’s one less decision, and ... unique dual eye piece. , “Whether its dirt and debris, or an acid or alkali, ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... a leading provider of patient support solutions, has announced the ... which will launch this week. The VMS CNEs will address ... enhance the patient care experience by delivering peer-to-peer education programs ... to help women who have been diagnosed and are being ... ...
Breaking Biology Technology: