There is widespread agreement that figurative language fundamentally organizes how humans think and communicate. Despite the importance of figurative language, we know little about its neural underpinnings and even less about the effects of brain damage on its use. Disorders of communication profoundly affect the lives of patients as seen with deficits in phonology, semantics, and even discourse. However, we do not know very much about the breakdown in comprehension of figurative language. We hypothesize that even when individuals make substantial recoveries in language deficits following brain damage they may continue to have profound problems with understanding non-literal language.
We aim to examine metaphors, a critical form of figurative language, in functional neuroimaging and patient-based studies. To test hypothesis about the neural bases for figurative language, we will use contemporary theoretical accounts of metaphor processing to motivate our studies and design our approach to overcome previous methodological limitations in this research. We expect to uncover unappreciated communication deficits in patients with neurological damage. Given the ubiquity of metaphor use in structuring thought and communication, such deficits beg to be recognized. Our proposed studies will advance our understanding of the cognitive neuroscience of metaphor comprehension in health and disease and have implications for the rehabilitation of subjects with brain disorders such as stroke.
People use metaphors pervasively to structure their thoughts and communications. Yet, despite knowing a great deal about the organization of literal language, we know little about the neural basis for figurative language and even less about its deficits following brain damage. We propose to conduct studies that will apply contemporary theories of metaphor comprehension and develop appropriate methods to advance our understanding of how this fundamental form of human communication is organized in the brain and how it breaks down with disease.
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