Metaphorically feeling – grounded cognition research

I found this research really interesting! Lacey, Stilla and Sathian write:

Some accounts of cognition propose that knowledge is represented in abstract codes, distinct from the sensory modalities through which the knowledge was acquired, and that cognitive processes involve computations on these amodal representations (Fodor, 1975; Pylyshyn, 2007). Theories of grounded cognition reject this notion, proposing instead that knowledge is represented in modal systems derived from perception and that cognition depends on perceptual simulations (Barsalou, 2008).
Conceptual metaphor theory is one approach to grounded cognition which suggests that knowledge is structured by metaphorical mappings from sensory experience (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). It is argued that this is true even for abstract concepts like time, for which metaphorical mappings can be made from experience of more concrete domains, such as space (Boroditsky, 2000; Casasanto & Boroditsky, 2008); for example, we speak of falling ‘behind’ schedule or looking ‘forward’ to an event. Conceptual metaphor theory is supported by a number of behavioral studies (e.g. Ackerman, Nocera & Bargh, 2010; Boot & Pecher, 2010; Gibbs & Matlock, 2008; Oullet, Santiago, Israeli & Gabay, 2010: Wilkowski, Meier, Robinson, Carter & Feltman, 2009). For example, the experiences of
light/heavy, rough/smooth, or hard/soft objects influenced subsequent judgments of
importance, difficulty of social interaction, or flexibility in negotiation, respectively
(Ackerman et al., 2010); and anger primes led to overestimation of actual room temperature (Wilkowski et al., 2009). These studies suggest that metaphorical expressions such as ‘weighty matters’, ‘coarse language’, ‘unbending attitude’, and ‘hot-headed’ have a perceptual basis. By contrast, others suggest that conventional metaphors, such as the time/space mappings noted above, are merely overlearned idiomatic associations and that lexicalization of such metaphors results in separate stored meanings (Keysar & Bly, 1999; Keysar, Shen, Glucksberg & Horton, 2000). On this account, there is no need to invoke associative mapping to understand that having a ‘rough’ day means having a ‘bad’ day, since the metaphor is in such common usage that the meaning of the word ‘rough’ is stored as both ‘abrasive’ and ‘unpleasant’.” (pp.1-2)

“We present preliminary evidence for the hypothesis that processing textural metaphors activates texture-selective somatosensory areas defined on independent functional localizer scans.” (p.3)

“Our findings provide the first clear evidence for activity in functionally localized, domain-specific sensory cortical areas during processing of metaphors. Using metaphors drawn from the single domain of texture and contrasting these with literal sentences matched for meaning and sentence structure, we observed activation in somatosensory texture-selective areas, but did not find differential activation either in language areas or in visual or bisensory texture-selective areas.” (p.4)

“…it appears that metaphor processing selectively activated sensory areas in the modality from which the metaphors primarily derived their meaning.” (p.4)

“We did not find differences in classical language areas between the activity evoked by
metaphorical and literal sentences. This does not rule out a role for classical language areas in metaphor processing. However, it is noteworthy that previous studies reporting activity in such areas during metaphor processing did not use controls as tightly matched for meaning and sentence structure as we did.” (p.4)

“Previous neuroimaging studies using action verbs to examine the role of embodiment in metaphor processing have yielded inconsistent results, perhaps because the underlying  simulations might be organized in different ways, either somatotopically or according to action goals (Aziz-Zadeh & Damasio, 2008). Here, we took advantage of the segregated sensory processing of different object properties and the fact that texture perception is commonly achieved haptically or visually. By restricting metaphors to the single domain of texture and employing visual and haptic texture localizers, we were able to show that the simulations underlying such metaphors are likely somatosensory, since we did not find metaphor-related activation in either visual or bisensory texture-selective cortex. In conclusion, although based on a relatively small sample, the present study provides a preliminary proof of concept for conceptual metaphor theory.” (pp.5-6)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Simon Lacey, Randall Stilla and K Sathian (2012) ‘Metaphorically feeling: comprehending textural metaphors activates somatosensory cortex’ Brain and Language March 120(3): 416-421

ABSTRACT: “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.”


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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