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Metaphors Make Brains Touchy Feely
by Gisela Telis on 7 February 2012, 5:02 PM
The right turn of phrase can activate the brain's sensory centers, a new study suggests. Researchers have found that textural metaphors—phrases such as "soft-hearted"—turn on a part of the brain that's important to the sense of touch. The result may help resolve a long-standing controversy over how the brain understands metaphors and may offer scientists a new way to study how different brain regions communicate.
Scientists have disagreed for decades about how the brain processes metaphors, those figures of speech that liken one thing to another without using "like" or "as." One camp claims that when we hear a metaphor—a friend tells us she's had a rough day—we understand the expression only because we've heard it so many times. The brain learns that "rough" means both "abrasive" and "bad," this camp says, and it toggles from one definition to the other. The other camp claims the brain calls on sensory experiences, such as what roughness feels like, to comprehend the metaphor. Researchers from both camps have scanned the brain for signs of sensory activity triggered by metaphors, but these past studies, which tested a variety of metaphors without targeting specific senses or regions of the brain, have come up dry. Read rest at: