Idiomatic expressions evoke stronger emotional responses in the brain than literal sentences

Citron, Francesca M.M. and Cacciari, Cristina and Funcke, Jakob M. and Hsu, Chun-Ting and Jacobs, Arthur M. (2019) Idiomatic expressions evoke stronger emotional responses in the brain than literal sentences. Neuropsychologia, 131. pp. 233-248. ISSN 0028-3932

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Recent neuroscientific research shows that metaphors engage readers at the emotional level more strongly than literal expressions. What still remains unclear is what makes metaphors more engaging, and whether this generalises to all figurative expressions, no matter how conventionalised they are. This fMRI study aimed to investigate whether idiomatic expressions - the least creative part of figurative language - indeed trigger a higher affective resonance than literal expressions, and to explore possible interactions between activation in emotion-relevant neural structures and regions associated with figurative language processing. Participants silently read for comprehension a set of emotionally positive, negative and neutral idioms embedded in short sentences, and similarly valenced literal sentences. As in studies on metaphors, we found enhanced activation of the left inferior frontal gyrus and left amygdala in response to idioms, indexing stronger recruitment of executive control functions and enhanced emotional engagement, respectively. This suggests that the comprehension of even highly conventionalised and familiar figurative expressions, namely idioms, recruits regions involved in emotional processing. Furthermore, increased activation of the IFG interacted positively with activation in the amygdala, suggesting that the stronger cognitive engagement driven by idioms may in turn be coupled with stronger involvement at the emotional level.

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This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Neuropsychologia. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Neuropsychologia, 131, 2019 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2019.05.020
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?? idiomsfmrifigurative languageemotionamygdalacognitive neurosciencebehavioral neuroscienceexperimental and cognitive psychology ??
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22 Jun 2019 09:14
Last Modified:
23 Apr 2024 00:34