Context matters: Novel metaphors in supportive and non-supportive contexts

Franziska Hartung, Yoed N. Kenett, Eileen R. Cardillo, Stacey Humphries, Nathaniel Klooster, Anjan Chatterjee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Creative language is defined as linguistic output that is both novel and appropriate. Metaphors are one such example of creative language in which one concept is used to express another by highlighting relevant semantic features. While novelty is an inherent property of unfamiliar metaphors, appropriateness depends on the context. The current study tests the hypothesis that the context in which metaphors are encountered affects their processing. We examined the neural effects of comprehending metaphors in context by comparing neural activations in response to novel metaphors and literal sentences that were either embedded in a meaningful narrative or in matched jabberwocky contexts. We found that the neural correlates of processing metaphoric sentences and their literal counterparts are indistinguishable when embedded in a narrative: both conditions activate bilateral areas along the anterior temporal poles, middle temporal gyri, superior temporal sulci, and the angular gyri. Metaphors embedded in a narrative as compared to their identical counterparts embedded in jabberwocky show increased responses in sensorimotor areas that correspond to the modality of the literal meaning of the target word, perhaps reflecting deeper semantic processing. Our results confirm that context affects neural mechanisms for understanding creative ideas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116645
StatePublished - 15 May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by NIH grant 5R01DC012511 awarded to AC. Mark Elliot developed the BOLD scanning sequence. We thank Geoff Aguirre for helpful guidance in designing the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Creative language
  • Figurativeness
  • Metaphor
  • Narrative
  • Novelty
  • fMRI


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